By Natalie Miller
When Hanover resident Mark Williamson found out he needed a kidney transplant, he and his wife Rhonda didn’t know how long it would take to find a match. Their 16 years of marriage became an even stronger bond when Rhonda, a nurse by trade herself, donated her right kidney to Mark this month.
Mark has lived with chronic kidney disease his whole life, ultimately causing end stage renal failure. The Williamsons were told earlier this year that like his mother had in the past, Mark would need a kidney transplant.
Exhaustion comprised most of Mark’s time when he wasn’t working, and he maintained his position as Vice President at his company as his kidneys’ health continued to diminish.
Most donated organs come from recently deceased people, but healthy donors with compatible blood types who match with the person in need can donate a kidney and survive with only one.
Rhonda had several tests done and 54 vials of blood taken within six weeks to ensure she was in the best health to donate, and recover. Having the universal, O negative blood type made Rhonda highly eligible for donating an organ. The tests confirmed that she beat the odds and was a match for her husband.
“We’d always hoped that I would be his match but we never in a million years thought it would happen,” Rhonda said.
The Williamsons were the first cases to enter one of MCV’s operating rooms on the morning of Aug. 1. Rhonda was the first to go under the knife to remove her right kidney.
Doctors revealed that Mark’s kidneys completely failed right before the surgery. Mark’s diseased kidneys remain in his body, with the addition of the third, healthy kidney.
Though Mark now has a fully functioning kidney for the first time in his life, he may face other medical threats. The new kidney beneath Mark’s incision and 40 staples will always run the risk of being rejected by his body, and he will be taking anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life.
The couple was warned that after the operation, Rhonda would feel significantly worse than she did before the donation. Mark stayed by her bedside during her difficult hours, feeding her ice chips and keeping her company as her body adjusted to the changes.
Follow-up appointments show promising progress. Doctors have said all of their incisions and vitals are healthy.
“They said we are just doing great, and that makes us feel really good,” Rhonda said. “It’s just amazing to go through such a major surgery and feel as good as we do.”
Since being released back to their home, the Williamsons’ family and friends have cared for the couple.
“We’ve had a great support system and I think that has a big part of why we’re doing so well,” Rhonda said.
The couple has been walking two miles a day and working to return to their normal lives.
“We’re going through every bit of this together,” Rhonda said.
The Williamsons are resting up after the major surgery, and Mark is looking forward to hunting season and being able to golf again. Rhonda said she hopes to be able to drive to their next appointment.
“I’m just so thankful that he feels better, because it’s been so hard to watch,” Rhonda said.
“I feel so honored to be able to have done that—to be a donor while I’m living, and to my husband,” Rhonda said.
Rhonda has already planned to donate part of her liver to a stranger next year. The liver donation process will have fewer lasting negative effects, as a healthy liver regenerates when a portion is removed.
“I’m a big advocate for organ donating,” Rhonda said. “It’s so sad that the percentage of people who donate their organs is so minimal.”