Friday, May 6, 2022

Fate intervenes in kidney donation for best friends in Windham

Windham Walmart employees Jean Bennett, left,
and Michelle Davis await a flight at the Portland
Jetport on Monday. Davis, who is Bennett's
best friend, received a donated kidney from
Bennett during transplant surgery in 
Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday.
By Ed Pierce

It’s often the moment of decision in which our fates are determined and for two Windham Walmart employees, being placed together in the same department six years ago may have saved the life of one of them.

Jean Bennett, a team leader at Walmart, first struck up a friendship instantly with Michelle Davis when they were both assigned to work together at the Windham store in 2016. They became best friends and Bennett, a divorced mother of two, anguished as Davis, a married mother of four children, experienced kidney failure and then was told she needed a kidney transplant to survive.

“Michelle’s been suffering from kidney disease for the past four and a half years,” Bennett said. “It was really hard to watch my best friend go through that and suffer so much.”

The process of waiting for a kidney donation hasn’t been easy for Davis and her family.

“It’s been emotionally and financially draining and very difficult not knowing if I would find a match or not,” Davis said. “But then a miracle happened.”

And that miracle came from a very unexpected and fateful source.

Last year Bennett herself got tested and as unbelievable as it sounds, turned out to be a potential match for Davis. Bennett then underwent immune system testing and blood work last October and that was followed up by a battery of intense and rigorous kidney donation testing in February of this year. 

The Mayo Clinic reports that currently there are about 90,000 Americans in kidney failure on the waiting list for a possible match for a donor kidney and the average length of time that a recipient may spend on the waiting list is about three to five years. Many would-be kidney recipients die before ever finding a match nationally, making this particular donation even more improbable.

Eventually, Bennett’s donation to Davis was approved and both friends flew to Florida on Monday for the kidney transplant surgery, which was performed Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

“She’s my best friend and she truly helped me through a tough time a few years ago,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t just sit by and let her die, I knew I needed to step up and do something. I told her I would do anything for my best friend and if I can prolong your life, I’m willing to do it.”

Davis said that she’s grateful for meeting someone as wonderful as Bennett.

“I think it was a higher power that put us together working in the same department at Walmart,” Davis said. “I believe in fate and there’s a reason we met. Having her to do this for me is a godsend.”

During the complicated four-hour surgical operation, Bennett’s left kidney was removed and then transplanted into Davis, who was in surgery for about seven hours.

Bennett says that her teen daughters are highly supportive of her donating her kidney to Davis and proud of what she’s done.

“They understand, and they get it,” she said. “I’ll be in Florida for around 10 days and then I get to come home. I’ve been told not to do any heavy lifting for around six to eight weeks. But I should be back to full speed about mid-July.”

Doctors say that during the coming months Bennett’s remaining kidney will enlarge, doing the work of two healthy kidneys.

Davis was accompanied to Florida by her daughter, Samantha, who will stay with her during her recovery period which is estimated to be between four to eight weeks in Jacksonville. She will no longer require dialysis and should resume a normal life because of the transplant.

Both Bennett and Davis say they have been transformed by this entire experience.

“We got pushed together at work and found we had a lot in common,” Davis said. “Now we will have even more in common.”

Bennett said she would encourage everyone to become organ donors and through everything related to the donation and transplant, she’s discovered something new about herself.

“I am a much stronger person than I thought I was,” Bennett said. “Because of this I am committed to becoming an organ donor. I never expected to save anyone’s life, but it’s certainly changed mine for the better.” <

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