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Kidney donation, cancer diagnosis and the process of growing up

Shelby and Maggi were friends as missionary kids, doing things together like playing dress-up.


DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. (BP) — Details matter. Shelby Cox knows this from her studies in forensics at Jacksonville State University. When there is a lot going on, it’s important to set distractions aside. Focus on what is in front of you.

Today, the 22-year-old is recovering at home after donating a kidney to her childhood friend, a fellow missionary kid, on Dec. 27. That came about after a time of having her friend’s name on her heart even though they hadn’t talked in 16 years. It happened after her mother was diagnosed with cancer during the assessment process to be the original donor.

It happened through a lifelong commitment – modeled by her parents – to being obedient to God.

A call for help and unexpected result

Maggi Lingow and Shelby Cox had matching blankets on the day of their surgeries.

Cox remembers playing dress-up and other games with Maggi Lingow, with their little sisters joining in, when both of their parents served through the International Mission Board in the North Africa/Middle East region.

“She was one of my very first friends,” Cox, whose family attends First Baptist Douglasville, told Baptist Press on Thursday, Jan. 11. “But when we moved, our families went separate ways and we lost touch.”

Their mothers, Kimberly Cox and Vicki Lingow, stayed in touch through social media, but their girls stayed busy with school and friends, with Maggi going on to attend Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., near her family, and Shelby moving on to JSU.

About five years ago, Maggi Lingow was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that affected her kidneys. In August 2022, her father posted on social media that she was in complete kidney failure.

“My knee-jerk comment under that post was that she could have one of mine,” said Kimberly Cox. “Her dad reached out to me in a private message [to ask] if I was serious about that. He sent me a link to the national donor program.”

After some time of praying through it with her husband, Cox moved forward with the assessment to see if she was a suitable match.

It included an EKG, chest x-ray and 27 vials of drawn blood. The final step was a scan of her kidneys. Everything pointed to her being a perfect match.

After that, she spent the rest of the weekend with the Lingows before flying back to Atlanta. The next week, someone from the hospital called her.

The scan found something.

Shelby and Kimberly Cox

‘That wasn’t the point’

There were tumors on Kimberly’s pancreas; not pancreatic cancer, but still enough to be a concern. It was caught so early, her oncologist said, that the best course of action was to actually do nothing.

“The tumors were very small,” she said. “Our doctor explained that the pancreas is a very sensitive organ that doesn’t like to be messed with, so the risk of surgery was outweighing whatever the cancer is doing at this time.”

The action plan of doing nothing prompted the Coxes to get a second, then a third, opinion. They agreed.

But despite her diagnosis, Kimberly couldn’t help but think of someone else. 

“I was heartbroken for Maggi,” she said. I was going to have to call her mom and say I couldn’t help her. It was awful and I was devastated. Yes, it was good to find the cancer early, but that wasn’t the point.”

Shelby received the call from her dad. She was at work in the University Police Department, and upon getting the news needed a moment outside.

“I was just standing there and started hyperventilating,” she remembered. “It just really shocked me.”

Maggi had been on her mind a lot going back to the summer.

“When mom started going through the donor assessment, I felt it had been God’s way of preparing me to be there for my mom. She had told us far into the process that everything was looking good and I was ecstatic for her,” Shelby said.

“So, when everything happened with her diagnosis I had a pretty heavy time of grieving for my mom, of course, but also for Maggi. I could not get her off my heart. That didn’t change after weeks of praying about her.

“I thought, if mom was a match, then I probably am, too.”

Connected

Maggi Lingow and Shelby Cox had matching blankets on the day of their surgeries.

Kimberly had been told to expect about a year to pass from the beginning of the assessment to actually going into surgery. Her process had gone into the summer of 2023, with them getting the cancer diagnosis last August. 

Shelby hoped that process could be expedited due to her school schedule. It went through in a matter of four months. One condition was for Shelby’s surgery to take place in Atlanta, with the kidney then being transported to Spokane. Kimberly even got a picture of the container as it made its way through the hospital lobby to the airport.

About 15 hours after the kidney was taken from Shelby it was placed into Maggi, following a cross-country ride packed in ice aboard a passenger jet.

“We were tracking that plane like it was carrying a loved one because, in a way, it was,” said Kimberly.

Maggi and Shelby plan to meet in person as soon as their schedules slow down after graduation. Now, they share a lot more in common than some old play dresses.

“We’ve spent time catching up, talking about school and things we like to do. We send each other updates on how our post-surgery recovery is going,” Shelby said.

For her parents, it was important to let the final decision be hers.

“I was on board with Shelby donating, but he needed a little more time,” Kimberly said of her husband, whose identity is being withhold due to his occupation.

“We just let her talk it through. One of the beautiful things I love about being a parent is watching your adult children process a decision, knowing she is her own spiritual being, and seeing her use the tools that you’ve hopefully modeled.”

Her daughter used those tools, and a few others.

“God has been teaching me a lot,” Shelby said. “But one of my challenges comes from getting too emotional at times. I have to be able to detach myself from what my heart wants and my mind thinks and put them together.”

In other words, to use both to sift out the noise and focus on what’s in front of you.