Bryan Ross searched for years for a kidney.
He’d walk past the Tree of Life mural at Wake Forest Baptist Health, where kidney donors sign their names, and wonder when he might see his donor’s name on the wall.
His wife, Donna, tried to be a donor but didn’t pass a kidney function test. Their children were disqualified for various reasons. Coworkers at Catawba Valley Community College also offered to donate a kidney to Bryan, who has suffered from kidney problems since he was a boy. Each candidate who offered was disqualified by one test or another, Donna Ross said.
“Each time we made it one step further in the process,” she said. “It felt like we were looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Even a 2016 article in the Hickory Daily Record didn’t find a donor. The couple was nearly ready to give up hope and resign Bryan to a future of dialysis.
One last Facebook call for donors in late 2019 answered their prayers.
Jimmy Martin was up for the challenge. Though he wasn’t close with the Rosses, his wife Jane had worked with Bryan and Donna at CVCC. Martin also worked with the couple’s son at Newton Fire Department.
With decades of service in firefighting under his belt, Martin was made for a life of helping others, he said. So when he heard Bryan needed a kidney, it was another person he could help. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’ve got anything wrong with me so we’ll see what we can do,’” he said.
His tests started in early January, first with urine and blood samples, then a kidney function test, a CT scan and an MRI. With each passed test, Bryan and Donna were more and more hopeful.
Then COVID-19 shut down hospitals for all elective procedures, including Martin’s last test, a stress test.
Bryan and Donna spent two months on the edge of their seat, Donna said, until May 26, when they heard the good news: Martin was eligible to donate.
One week later, Martin and Bryan were in the hospital — unable to have visitors because of COVID-19 but able to see each other.
Donna said sending them in alone was the most stressful part. “It’s like every emotion you feel,” she said. “You feel anxious. You feel excited. You feel stressed, worried, concerned, blessed — the whole gamut of emotions.”
But she thought about two rainbows she and Bryan had seen together just days before, and the sense of hope it brought her. “I had written him a card (the day of his surgery) and said, ‘One of those rainbows could be for us,’ and I said, ’Today is the day you can get your rainbow.’”
For both men, the surgery went flawlessly. One month later, both are healing well.
Martin is back at his job as a building inspector but with a new sense of just how great the need for organ donors is, he said.
“I would tell anyone to do it if you’re able,” Martin said. “There’s always people out there in need.”
And Bryan was able to visit Baptist Health and see what he’d always hoped: his donor’s name signed on the Tree of Life.
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