Want a Piece of Me?

Two friends and NKU coworkers shared an experience that connects them forever.

 
By Sarah McIntosh | Published Sept. 10, 2019
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Beth Sweeney and Terri Williams
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In 2011 Terri Williams, who has worked for Northern Kentucky University for over 38 years (she started in the president’s office, moved to budgeting and eventually took an administrative coordinator position in the office of the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, where she works today) started having issues with her blood pressure. Three years later, she was diagnosed with kidney failure, a condition that was common in her family due to problems in the blood. The inherited condition meant that no one in her family, usually the first ones doctors look to for compatibility, would be able to donate.
 
But that didn’t stop one family member from stepping in to be a lifesaver. Her son, Kyle Malone, reached out to local news stations, created flyers and diligently posted on Facebook to get out the word about his mom’s condition. Beth Sweeney, a fellow NKU employee and friend, saw one of Malone’s Facebook posts alerting her to her friend’s dire condition.
 
“It hit me when Terri’s son posted on Facebook that she would have to go on dialysis,” Sweeney says. “I knew her mother died of renal failure, and it’s like, oh my god—I can’t let this happen to Terri.” 
 
Sweeney, like Williams, has also worked at NKU for more than 30 years. She started her career in the College of Arts and Sciences and moved to work in the provost’s office as an associate provost in 2011. “I mean, we were close anyways,” she says. “When we started working in the provost’s office together is when we really started getting close. We spent a lot of hours here late at night, doing projects, and we just hit it off.”
 
Within a week of Sweeney seeing the Facebook post, she had contacted a coordinator for Williams at Christ Hospital and discovered that, despite the exceedingly low probability that two people who happen to share an office are compatible for organ transplantation, she was an ideal match for her friend. When Williams told her family a donor had been found, they were elated. 
“Gosh, they were ecstatic when they found out that Beth was a match, because they had seen what their grandma went through,” says Williams. “And they didn't want that to happen to me. So they were just ecstatic and overwhelmed. My husband, of course, couldn't believe that it was Terri. It was like, I can't believe it—somebody you work with.”
 
They had found a match for Williams, but there was no guarantee the surgery would take place. In order to continue the process, Sweeney had to take multiple tests to ensure the transplant had the best chance of being successful.

"[My family was] just ecstatic and overwhelmed. My husband, of course, couldn't believe that it was Terri. It was like, I can't believe it—somebody you work with."

“It’s a long process,” says Sweeney. “I’m over here jumping through hoops while her kidney failure is getting worse. I hit a really low point when they said I had to do a liver biopsy, because, you know, three months in and what if there's something wrong and I'm not able to donate now?”   
 
But after seven long months of tests and deteriorating health, the two got word that the surgery was a go … maybe. 
 
“Up to the day of surgery, we didn't know if they were going to go through with it or not,” says Williams. “We're both sitting in rooms next to each other. And they’re like, ‘There's just one number that's askew. We’re not sure.’ Finally, at the last minute, they decided to go through with it. I see her going down the hall and said, ‘Okay, game on.’”
 
Sweeney’s surgery went so smoothly that she was out in the recovery room before they had even taken Williams in for prep. “She came down and saw me in recovery in a wheelchair,” she says. “I wasn't even upstairs yet.” But it wasn’t long before Williams did go upstairs, where doctors replaced her failing kidney with one that worked—a gift from her good friend and coworker. 
 
“I know this sounds cliché,” says Williams, “but in the Bible, when it says treat your body as a temple? That's true. If you don't take care of your body, everything just falls apart.” 
 
September 4th, 2019, marked the one-year anniversary of the kidney transplant surgery, and the two are still in awe that it happened at all. “You know, to me, it's a miracle,” says Williams. 
 
“It was life changing for her,” adds Sweeney, “but it was for me, too.” 
 
“It gave me my life back—literally,” says Williams. “She is my hero.”

If you have questions or wish to learn more about organ donation and how it works, visit organdonor.gov.

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