Just before midnight on Tuesday, March 3, Audra Wiseman arrived at the Center for Transplant Services at the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) to prepare for kidney donation surgery, which would save the life of a 47-year-old Avery High School teacher, Shannon Perdue.
(Read about Audra’s decision to donate a kidney here.)
After undergoing last-minute tests which would clear the way for surgery, Audra’s emotions began to stir. “It was stressful. I was anxious…very nervous,” Audra said. However, throughout all the stress, Audra never once thought about changing her mind. “I was just ready for it to happen,” she said.
At 6:00 am on Wednesday, Audra was moved into the pre-op unit where she was greeted with a pleasant surprise. “I saw Miss Shannon there. She was in the bed beside me. I was so happy to see her.” Audra’s elation was short lived however because she learned that Shannon’s creatinine had risen significantly and she was not breathing well. “I was concerned,” Audra said, “Our families and Pastor Ron Greene all prayed together. It was a special moment for everyone.”
The pre-COVID-19 Miracle
Shannon confirmed that the surgery almost didn’t happen. “I was very sick. They did an x-ray on me and thought I had pneumonia.” For a brief period the surgeons were evaluating sending both women home. Shannon added, “It is a miracle they went ahead with [the surgery]. This was right before the Corona virus really ramped up. I’m so truly blessed. If we would have waited another week or two, then we likely wouldn’t have done the surgery.”
During surgery Audra’s and Shannon’s families spent time together in the waiting area. Shannon knew that her mother Joan was particularly nervous. “My dad died of this same disease, so I’m sure she had that on her mind,” Shannon said.
Audra does not remember anything about the surgery itself. She recalled waking up in her room with her family and pastor by her side. The first few days after surgery, Audra felt a lot more pain than she expected.
Shannon experienced pain, too. But in recovery the physicians came to meet with her and her family to explain that the kidney was already functioning properly. “I remember them saying, ‘it’s a great kidney’…they actually thought Audra was an athlete,” she said.
The procedure left Audra with a visible reminder of her act of kindness. “Yes, I have a few small incisions and one that is larger. They are healing well, however,” she added. When asked what she thinks about when she sees the incisions, she replied, “they will always remind me of the gift I gave.” After a moment of reflection Audra continued, “and how fortunate I was to be able to give it.”
The day after surgery, Shannon’s mother Joan came to visit Audra to thank her for giving the gift of life. Audra was pleased to learn that Shannon’s new kidney was working perfectly. She recalled hearing that Shannon had lost nine liters of excess fluid and 15 pounds overnight. “It made me so happy to know that it was successful. That news made it all worth it,” she said.
On Thursday Shannon and Audra were moved into adjoining rooms. “I went to see Shannon on Thursday and again on Friday …Those visits were emotional …She just thanked me and we cried together,” said Audra.
To celebrate their new bond, Joan took a picture of them together — with a promise that the photo would not be shared anywhere. Shannon joked, “we didn’t look so great, so we agreed the picture would be just for us.”
Audra and Shannon Now
Audra and Shannon have been staying in touch with each other since the surgery. Audra said that Shannon and Joan text often, just to check in. In order to keep healthy, Shannon has been quarantined at home since leaving the hospital. Shannon only leaves home to go to UTMC in Knoxville. Over the next year she’ll see the kidney transplant team every few weeks for follow up. As her condition stabilizes, she’ll return to the care of her personal nephrologist. Shannon said that her bond with Audra will last forever. “My whole family considers her [to be] family now.”
Audra will continue to recover at home until May 4 when she returns to work as a nurse at Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville, NC. When asked about making that transition Audra selflessly remarked, “I’m really looking forward to getting back to normal…to taking care of others again.”
Thankful for Community Support
In the days since the surgery, Audra has been overwhelmed by the community’s support. In spite of giving the gift of life she suggested, “I really feel like I’m the lucky one. While this surgery changed Shannon’s life for the better, it made my life better, too.”
Audra has received hundreds of notes, cards, texts and phone calls expressing gratitude and support. “People have been so kind to me…I want to thank them so much. I’m so thankful for their caring and kindness,” she said.