COVINGTON -- When prayers of thanks for health and family are said today by the Quick and Smith families, they won't be perfunctory -- they'll mean it with every fiber of their being.
Fifty-year-old Gwinnett County resident Tim Quick was snatched from his death bed a little more than two weeks ago by the kindness and generosity of his niece, Covington resident LaDonna Smith. With 3 percent kidney function, dialysis was not doing the job for Quick, but Smith's healthy kidney was transplanted at Piedmont Hospital on Nov. 6 and within 24 hours Quick reported feeling better than he had in years.
"When I woke up in the hospital the day after the surgery, I knew I hadn't felt this way in years. We knew it was coming on about 15 years ago. It got to the point this past year that I had to go on dialysis. I was down to no kidneys. Basically, without the dialysis I was dying," he said.
"A healthy kidney is about the size of a tangerine or apple, but Tim's were the size of shriveled prunes," said Smith, who, along with Quick, has learned some fascinating things about the human body and kidney function in particular.
Quick was on daily dialysis and in June was approved as a candidate for a transplant. Most people go on a waiting list, and it could take years before a donor is found. In Quick's case, however, the donors were standing in line. Several nieces and nephews offered to be donors.
"It wasn't just me. We had others who tried out. I won," said Smith with a grin. She had jokingly threatened to pull out if Quick didn't stop repeatedly thanking her.
"You have to have a desire to do it, but who wouldn't? I had no second thoughts. I couldn't imagine not doing it," Smith said.
"What tore me up was I had two nieces and two nephews fighting over who was going to give Uncle Tim a kidney. That was hard," Quick said. "It's easy to give something. We donate things to charity every year and I don't have trouble doing that. But when you receive something ... this is such a jewel. It's hard."
Quick said at the time of the operation, he was so sick he was ready to die.
"Now I'm looking at things a lot different than I did two weeks ago. I was to the point, and it's sad to say this, but I was ready to die. I just didn't care anymore," he admitted. "But now, I'm saying, 'What was I thinking?'"
Both Quick and Smith went through a battery of tests -- both physical and psychological -- to make sure they were prepared for the transplant.
"They called it the million dollar workup for both of us," Smith said.
" ... for LaDonna especially kidney tests because it was vital to make sure her kidney function is good because she'd be down to one kidney," Quick pointed out.
One surgeon removed LaDonna's kidney laproscopically and a second surgeon made the transplant to Quick. The kidney was placed in the front of his body and his non-functioning kidneys were left in place.
"They said they had found the recovery process is quicker that way," Quick said.
"They said once my kidney went in him ... from the minute it gets in his body, it begins working, trying to get the toxins out of his body. It's not in its normal environment, and it will not slow down because it's going to work until it gets him back to his normal state," Smith said.
Quick said that's exactly what happened.
"Believe me, this kidney works good because she's working me to death. I've got to constantly drink because I'd dehydrate," he said. "It began working overtime immediately. The 'brain' of the kidney itself was saying, 'We've got to pull these toxins off him.' I had gotten so sick, the toxins in my blood were coming out through my skin."
While dialysis is life-saving technology, Quick said it can never replace the marvel of the human body.
"It just goes to show you a certain amount of toxins come off through dialysis, which helps you out, but it can never do what God intended for your kidneys to do. You can't replace that perfection. People don't realize how complex the human body is. When the healthy kidney gets in there, it takes the rest of it off."
Quick's diet had been severely limited for years and among the many foods he was not allowed was any type of dairy product.
"When I got this kidney, the first thing I was craving was a glass of cold milk because my body hadn't had it for so long," Quick recalled. He got the milk and said he's looking forward to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, which will also include a healthy serving of the not-so-traditional seafood gumbo.
His only restrictions now are rare meat and sushi and no grapefruit or pomegranate which will interfere with his anti-rejection drugs that he will take for the rest of his life.
Smith said she has recovered amazingly well. She walked in the American Cancer Society's 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk two weeks prior to the surgery. Training for that 60-mile walk, as well as the medical tests conducted prior to the surgery, assured her she is in top-notch physical health. At 38, she is the same age her mother was when she died of breast cancer when Smith was a teenager.
"One of the things that made it all worth it is the sweet message I got from his (Quick's) daughter, who is having his granddaughter. She thanked me for giving her daddy back," Smith said with tears in her eyes. "I thought, 'Oh, if somebody could have given me my mama back.' I know how she feels. She saw her daddy on death's bed."
Smith said she was warned the pain for her as the donor would be worse than the recipient's, but she said she found it wasn't as bad as she feared.
"We've compared pain levels, and we've had about the same," she said. "Not to minimize it, I have been uncomfortable, but it was not as bad as I'd heard."
Smith, who is the mother of two girls and a 3-year-old son, said it's been a "Wow!" experience and she would encourage anyone to do it.
Quick, the father of three with a grandchild on the way, is now looking forward to a healthy future, and he certainly didn't lose his sense of humor through his health trials.
He explained that he is a big "Gone With the Wind" fan and it has always been his desire to name a child after Scarlett and Rhett's daughter, Bonnie Blue Butler. He wanted his daughter to take the name, but his wife nixed the idea. Then he tried to persuade his daughter to name his future grandchild Bonnie Blue, but she also gave the name a thumbs down.
"He said, 'That's it. I'm getting a female kidney and I'm naming her Bonnie Blue,'" Smith said with a laugh.
Quick said doctors had told him there was a chance the original disease that had infected his own kidneys might attack the new one, but that didn't happen.
"They said if it does show that the (new kidney) is being attacked, it will be within 24 hours of surgery. It's been two weeks now and there's no sign. They don't know where the disease went. When I die at 102, I'll still have this kidney," Quick said confidently.
Quick is married to Renee and Smith is married to Chris. Both said they couldn't have survived the ordeal without their spouses, who have stepped forward to lend support and perform nursing duties.
Quick said had it been the other way around -- had Smith required a kidney -- he would have been the first one in line.
"That's just how our family is. We've got a lot to be thankful for," he said.
"He's going to get to enjoy the holidays and then enjoy his little granddaughter that's on the way. It's just worked out perfectly," Smith agreed.