- [S23] Atchley Funeral Home, (http://www.atchleyfuneralhome.com/), 14 Dec 2006.
James McClure obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 24 Nov 2011.
A donation of a lifetime: Local woman donates kidney to her cousin
by STAN VOIT
Paige McClure, standing, visits her friend Jan Banks the day after surgery that gave Banks one of McClure’s kidneys.
In healthier times, Jan Banks, left, with Bob and Paige McClure of Sevierville.
Banks and McClure, first-cousins, have been friends — sisters, they say — from the beginning. Here they are as toddlers in 1956 when both were 3 years old.
They were cousins, but really more like sisters. Paige grew up in Tennessee, Jan in Georgia, and they didn’t see each other very often, but the bond was unshakable.
The friendship remained as they grew into their teen years and then became adults. Each got married, each remained in their home state, but the visits and phone calls never let up.
When Jan was 23 she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. That was a illness that would only get worse over time, creating all kinds of medical difficulties for Jan.
Four years ago Jan’s kidneys began to be affected, not an uncommon side effect from the diabetes. She soon was legally blind. The hikes up Mount LeConte, the camping trips, the time on the lake — activities the two liked to share — were over.
“I remember one day she called me,” Paige McClure of Sevierville recalled, “and said her kidney function was declining. I’m a nurse and I knew it would not be long before she would be on dialysis. I told her that if she gets on dialysis and ever needs a kidney, to put me down as a possibility.”
That was a noble pledge, one Paige’s parents knew about and endorsed just before they died. Paige’s husband Bob also backed up his wife, as did the couple’s two children.
By spring 2010 Jan Banks’ condition was worsening, and she was discouraged. The dialysis was draining her strength and resolve. She was having really bad days coping with the illness and the treatment.
“At that time we started talking about a kidney transplant,” Paige McClure said.
Needing a kidney and finding one are two very different and often challenging things. The most likely donor would be Jan’s son, and he seemed like a good match until doctors discovered an abnormality with the blood vessels in his left kidney, the one doctors prefer to transplant. It came down to Paige and her pledge.
She was tested twice at Emory University Hospital where a transplant would take place. She failed both tests. After a battery of medical tests from EKGs to urine to chest X-rays, she missed by one point of being a suitable donor. On the second test she failed by 11 points.
It looked bleak for Jan Banks. But wait. McClure’s own physician, Dr. Anthony Morton of Knoxville, was skeptical that his patient would have failed. He knew her, knew her medical history and was doubtful she could have been ruled out. McClure was not on blood pressure medicine — if you are, you can’t donate a kidney. Her own medical tests were fine.
“He was inclined to think the tests at Emory were erroneous,” McClure said. “He believed it had been a false reading. I asked for one more test at Emory. They agreed.”
Emory paid for the first two tests. McClure would have to pay for the third.
“I passed with flying colors,” she said.
She is convinced it was God’s intervention that changed the equation and made her a suitable donor after two failed tests.
“It was meant to be,” she said. “I had so many people praying. I called Jan and she was elated.”
More tests were ahead before Emory would give the go-ahead. Two days worth of tests at the Atlanta hospital. Blood work of every kind, X-rays, even psychological testing.
“I never wanted out,” McClure said.
Doctors on the transplant team finally agreed to the surgery. The date was Oct. 27.
“There is no more risk than with any other surgery,” McClure said. Interestingly, the recipient keeps the two failing kidneys; the new one makes three, but of course only one functions.
It’s a three-hour procedure. McClure and Banks are in different operating rooms. When she awoke from the procedure, she was quickly told she and Banks came through the operations well.
“They said the minute they put my kidney into Jan, she started producing urine,” McClure said. “Within eight hours she had produced seven liters of urine.”
McClure’s post-op pain was manageable. She was discharged the third day and sent to Emory’s Mason House nearby, where patients stay before and after such procedures. She was required to stick around for a week.
Banks’ body began rejecting the new kidney on the second day, but anti-rejection drugs quickly brought that under control. She soon joined her buddy at Mason House. Banks returned to her home in east Georgia after two weeks.
Today she is doing fine.
“I’m doing better day by day,” Banks said by phone. “Every day I am getting stronger.”
She goes in every two weeks for an IV injection, something she’ll have to do the rest of her life, but not as frequently as time goes on. After two months she can eat whatever she likes.
McClure and her doctors at Emory nicknamed the kidney Rocky Top, a friendly dig at Banks’ Georgia roots. Banks has no trouble with that.
“Rocky Top keeps me up at night, and that’s great,” she joked.
A year ago Banks wasn’t even sure she’d make it to Thanksgiving 2011. She did. Her son and his family will be joining the Bankses. Her new birthday is Oct. 27, the day of the life-saving surgery.
She and McClure talk by phone two or three times a day, and a visit is planned in the coming weeks.
McClure returned to her job as nurse at Sevierville Intermediate last Thursday.
“This will be the best Thanksgiving,” she said, “for both of us. We won’t be together, but her whole attitude and demeanor are like it used to be. She was always the most positive person I have ever known. She’s coming back to be the old Jan.”
“I have so much to be thankful for,” Banks said. “Paige gave me a second chance at life. It really was a God thing. God intended for this to happen. Paige knew that. She knew it was supposed to be.”
“The kidney transplant journey has reaffirmed my faith in God, the power of prayer and the important of family, friends, and community,” McClure said. “It has been a life-changing journey for me. I have found that if I truly open myself up to God’s will the journey is something to behold with blessings returned a thousand-fold.”
This will be some terrific Thanksgiving for a Sevierville family and a Georgia family.