Shannon Hodges, RN, hadn’t seen her colleague’s daughter since she was in elementary school.
When she learned Bryanna Williams needed a kidney transplant, Shannon knew what she had to do: get tested to see if she could give Bryanna her kidney.
“I have three children, one of whom is Bryanna’s age. If he needed a kidney and I couldn’t donate to him, I couldn’t live in a world where no one else could help,” Shannon said.
As a young girl, Bryanna experienced frequent migraines and was constantly tired. After school, she would sleep, wake up for dinner and go back to bed for the rest of the night. By the time she reached high school, she slept 13-14 hours a day, still had migraines and would vomit when she ate.
“I was working and going to school, so I thought it was normal and my routine,” Bryanna said.
When she reached her junior year, Bryanna’s primary care physician ran blood work and sent her to a nephrologist. A biopsy determined she was in kidney failure. She was prescribed various medications, including immunosuppressants, and began dialysis.
Campaigning for a kidney donor
When Shannon joined Beaumont, Dearborn on the Medical/Surgical Unit in 2005, Bryanna’s mom, Shelley Loera, worked on the unit. They worked together for 10 years before Shelley changed units and Shannon left for a cubical job with Blue Cross. Missing patient care, Shannon later returned to the Medical/Surgical Unit.
“I’m not on social media, so I had no idea what had been going on with Bryanna until I heard some co-workers mention her,” Shannon said. “I learned she was in kidney failure and looking for a Type O kidney. I’m Type O.”
Shannon thought about her 19-year-old son and Bryanna before telling her team she’d get tested.
“They looked at me like I was crazy,” she said. “Honestly, I’ve never looked back since. I texted Shelley and contacted the Transplant team and began the process.”
Meanwhile, Bryanna’s physical health continued to decline. She grew angry and was losing hope in finding a match. When her mom told her about Shannon, Bryanna was indifferent to the news.
Shannon moved through the testing process quickly. With each test, she drove from Garden City to Beaumont, Royal Oak, where the transplant would take place. In the meantime, Bryanna and her family moved to Texas to get on a second transplant list and increase her odds of finding a donor.
“I thought I was going to save them that move, but they had to keep their avenues open,” Shannon said. “Shortly after their move, I was nearing the end of testing and had only one test left.”
Shannon was a match.
Bryanna packed her bags and returned to Michigan for final tests and surgery.
Kidney buddies for life
About a week before surgery, the two met for the first time in over 10 years. They exchanged gifts and talked about their expectations and fears before sealing the transplant deal with matching green pedicures.
“Until now, our transplant journey was separate, and we were finally coming together to talk,” Bryanna said. “These were our days to get to know each other.
Meeting Bryanna was surreal, Shannon said.
“Part of the concern was I was going to give a kidney to someone, but would they take care of it? Bryanna is a very articulate and well-educated young woman who I could tell manages her own health and was asking all the right questions,” Shannon said. “I got every ounce of reassurance that she deserved my kidney.”
Shannon and Bryanna went into surgery separately on Sept. 4 but came out with a lifelong bond.
“I was nervous for the recovery, but the Beaumont, Royal Oak Transplant team provided a calm and happy environment,” Bryanna said. “When you’re walking down the hallway, your surgeon is waving at you. One nurse, I could call her mom. She was positive and encouraging. Chad, a pharmacist, came to check on me every couple of days and would review my medications with my family. We asked questions, and they shared information on what to expect in the coming weeks.”
Bryanna had to stay home for the first four weeks of her recovery, so the two texted their goals and accomplishments of the week. When Bryanna had a minor setback in recovery due to fluid buildup on her scar, she took it as an opportunity learn more about post-op care, and the Royal Oak nurses taught her to change her own dressing. By week nine, she was completely healed and felt “amazing.”
“I have not puked or had a headache since my transplant. I sleep seven hours a night now,” Bryanna said. “Last year, at one point I weighed 250 pounds and couldn’t hold food down. I also didn’t urinate much, so after the transplant I was urinating constantly. I dropped to 187 pounds.” Now, she is gaining healthy weight, her doctors tell her.
For Shannon, she had a difficult time getting back to her workout routine because she tired quickly, but she is back to her normal schedule. She even went back to work two weeks early.
“I didn’t consider myself to be sick. I felt guilty about having time off work and needed to be productive. As for the incision, that’s my scar and I’m proud of it. I’m past my bikini days anyways,” she said with a laugh.
Bryanna now works part-time at a toy store in Trenton and was planning to start college in at Henry Ford Community College to pursue a career in nursing.
“I never had time to be productive. I do my hair every day now and am getting a head start on my math and applying for scholarships for school. I’m also enjoying food … maybe a little too much, but food tastes so much better,” she said.
Bryanna knew she would need a kidney one day, but she never thought about donating an organ until now.
“If I can help someone some way like Shannon did for me, I will. I am now signed up to be an organ donor,” she said.
“It’s amazing to continue to explore the change that has been made in Bryanna’s life because of this. She’s a young woman with life goals. It was awesome to get to know her and feel comfortable with what I was doing for such a beautiful person,” Shannon said, proving that the best gift you can give is the gift of life.