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Disaster relief co-workers turn organ donor & recipient

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BP)–Kurtiss Ewell received one Christmas present a few days late this year, and it came from someone he met last fall while volunteering in a Franklin, Tenn., shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Ewell, a diabetic who suffered from kidney disease, received the gift of a kidney from Audrey Dean Jan. 3.

Ewell, a member of Northside Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Dean, who attends Tennessee Valley Community Church in Paris, received Tennessee Baptist disaster relief training in September. They met Sept. 30 on their first ministry assignment.

The two believe God called them into disaster relief ministry, and they believe their meeting at the Franklin shelter did not happen by chance — it was a divine appointment.

Dean said they spent part of the day working together on inventory in the trailers. While she knew nothing of Ewell’s medical problems, she did notice that he had to stop periodically to rest.

The next day Dean and others asked Northside volunteer Sarah Beth Miller about Ewell when he didn’t return to the shelter. Miller told them Ewell wasn’t feeling well, that he suffered from kidney disease, and that he likely would have to begin dialysis treatments in the next year if a kidney did not become available.

Dean remembers thinking she would put Ewell on the prayer list at her church. She returned home the following Sunday and prayed for Ewell on Monday and Tuesday. Donating one of her own kidneys was not part of her thoughts. While she had made arrangements to be an organ donor at the time of her death, Dean had never considered being a living donor.

But God had other plans.

“By Wednesday I really felt this was what the Lord wanted me to do,” she said. She called Ewell and left a message on his answering machine saying she might have a kidney for him. She asked him to return her call.

When he got the message, Ewell recalled feeling “kind of confused and hesitant, though I did call her back. I never had a clue she would be the one to donate.

“Audrey said she was willing to be the donor if I was willing to accept,” Ewell said. “Of course I’d be willing to accept. It kind of started to overwhelm me. It was like out of a disaster something good would happen. I was going to help Katrina people and an angel came to help me.”

Testing began immediately to see if a kidney from Dean would be a match for Ewell since they already knew they shared the same blood type. When the tests were completed, they were a perfect match. In filling out endless forms, they also discovered they shared the same birthday, though Ewell is three years older.

In Dean’s mind, their Sept. 20 birthdays were just another sign that God had brought them together for a purpose.

“I have never had one moment when I questioned doing this,” Dean said. “I heard God speak. For every question there has been an answer. I get to be a part of God’s miracle.”

For Ewell, the surgery offers a new lease on life and the timing is perfect. He had been placed on a list for a cadaver kidney in 2003, and his health was on a downward spiral. In July 2005 he lost his TennCare prescription drug coverage due to budget cuts. In November, his two-day-a-week role as church receptionist was expanded to a four-day-a week job to help pay for his prescriptions. During this period he also won an appeal for Social Security disability that includes Medicare insurance coverage.

Originally scheduled for Nov. 28, the surgery was moved to Jan. 3 when a mix-up with the hospital was discovered. While frustrating at the time, Ewell and Dean believe the move was a good thing. It has allowed Dean time to train the person who will do her job billing insurance companies for Home Health Care and Hospice. It also has given Ewell more time to get physically, emotionally and spiritually prepared for the surgery.

Dean, a married mother of two daughters, went into the surgery with the full support of her family. Also, some co-workers donated sick days for her to use.

Ewell, who is not married, described Northside as “a rock for me to lean on. I have had a world of support.”

As they approached surgery, Ewell and Dean requested prayer for both of them to recover fully from the procedures.

Both individuals plan to continue involvement in disaster relief ministry. Before the surgery was scheduled, Ewell had signed up to go to Mississippi on Jan. 9 with a team from Northside.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to go,” he quipped.

While he doesn’t know the specifics of what his future holds, Ewell knows that helping others will be part of his life.

“During this time in my life I’ve realized there are a lot of people needing help. I hope people will see Christ in me and I can turn some minds away from the ways of the world. I can tell them my story,” Ewell said.

As to the details of his future, Ewell said, “I can hardly wait to see what the Lord has in store.”

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson