March 18, 2014

5 years after sister gave kidney, a gift of lunch – and a whole lot more

Five years ago, Cindy Evans gave her kidney to her sister-in-law to save her life.

In the front booth at Applebee’s in Rock Hill, three sisters – two by birth, one by marriage – eat lunch, with one granddaughter in tow. They laugh and talk, as sisters do.

But five years ago, nearly to the day, this simple lunch seemed all but impossible for Cathy Winn, who needed a kidney and needed it badly.

“I was at 4 percent function,” said Winn, 56, of her kidneys back then, when diabetes caused them to start shutting down. “I had no idea exactly how bad I felt.”

A normal person is born with two kidneys, but can live just fine with one.

Winn’s husband and kids were not suitable donors. Her doctors said if she was placed on the donor list, it would take about seven years to find a match.

Winn, in all likelihood, did not have seven years to wait.

“I didn’t think I would be a match,” said Winn’s sister-in-law, Cindy Evans, who can’t tell the story without crying, even five years later.

She’d never even thought about donating an organ to someone other than her children.

“I was sitting there, and I heard someone tell me to get up and go tell Cathy I’d give her my kidney,” Evans said.

She looked around the room. No one had spoken to her, at least not out loud, she said. So she stayed in her chair.

A moment later, she heard the same voice, stronger.

“Cindy, go, get up and tell someone you’ll give Cathy your kidney,” Evans said. “That’s what I heard, and by the time it was over, I was standing and walking over to her to tell her I’d do it.”

Evans just knew that the Lord was telling her what to do, and from the moment she stood up, she didn’t feel any fear.

Winn was floored.

“She didn’t just say, ‘I’ll be tested,’” Winn said. “She said, ‘I’ll give you my kidney.’”

So, on March 25, 2009, the sisters went in for surgery.

The night before, Evans called Winn and told her that, even if something went wrong and she died, knowing that she was helping Winn live would make it worth it.

Doctors took out Evans’ kidney through a small incision. Then, they put that kidney into Winn’s body, since her own were nearly useless.

The surgery was a success. The organ was a 99.9 percent match, doctors told them – a better match than most organ donations from blood relatives.

Shortly after surgery, Winn, who felt “instantly better,” walked into Evans’ hospital room. Evans started crying immediately, and it wasn’t because of the post-surgery pain.

“It was just such a blessing to see her walk in that room,” Evans said. “That was all I needed.”

It took about eight weeks for the sisters to get back to full health. Evans credits her recovery to her sister, Marsha Evans, who has been with Winn and Evans through every step of their journey.

The connection between Evans and Winn, already strong because of family ties, grew even stronger – but in ways they didn’t expect.

Evans always hated pickles and Ranch salad dressing, but Winn never had a problem with either. But after receiving Evans’ kidney, Winn found she disliked both.

Five years later, both Winn and Evans are doing great, as is Winn’s new kidney. It stayed strong in 2011, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, when she went through chemotherapy – and when she beat cancer.

Both Winn and Evans hope other people recognize the importance of organ donation and the gift of life that everyone can give.

“When that voice speaks to you, listen,” Winn said.

So on Tuesday, in a booth at Applebee’s, Cathy Winn, Cindy Evans and Marsha Evans laughed and talked and spent time together, celebrating what they say is the best gift a person can give – the gift of life.

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