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A Story Without a Finish Line

Kidney donor goes the distance with inspiration from another donor, a runner featured in 2010 article

What happens to a story long after it’s published and sent off into the world? Does it disappear? Or does it keep on living?

In 2010, I wrote a Texas Co-op Power story about a Jackson Electric Cooperative employee who had completed his first marathon at age 50. This feat was accomplished seven months after he had donated a kidney to his sister.

His was a great story [“Run a Marathon, Donate an Organ,” February 2011]. He gave the gift of life. But as stories do, they fade with time, and many months continued to bury his in the past.

Last August, I received an email from Mike Myers, the very marathon-running, kidney-donating JEC employee I had written about. He told me he had a voicemail on his answering machine from a woman who apologized for being intrusive, but she had decided to donate a kidney to a close friend and, as a runner, was concerned about any repercussions. She found the Texas Co-op Power story through a Google search, and as a Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative member, recalled reading it when it was published. Myers talked to her and put her at ease, and, as a show of support, planned to attend her transplant surgery, which was in August in San Antonio.

“What I did for my sister was without question,” Myers said in his message, “but for someone to be so gracious to donate an organ to someone out of the family is extraordinary.”

I asked Myers for the donor’s contact information. I wanted to tell her that she rocked and tell her thank you. To merely say thank you to someone for committing such a selfless act seems a bit silly. You say thank you when someone holds open the door. Do the same words carry a different weight when you say them to someone who has literally sacrificed a part of herself to save a life?

I contacted Cheryl Green, 55, a couple of weeks after her surgery, giving her some time to recover. Her cheerfully upbeat voice filled the line and warmed my heart, and I found it difficult to decipher that this woman had just come through major surgery. She talked to me with such familiarity, as if I were a member of her family.

We talked about her background and how she, similar to Myers, ran her first half-marathon after age 50. “I never planned to be fast; my goal is to keep doing this when I’m 100,” said the Bastrop resident and former aerobics instructor. “I decided it’s a way for me to keep old age at bay.”

Seven half-marathons and one full marathon later, the serious runner was keeping active when she learned a close friend needed a kidney. Her friend, who had kidney problems for many years, wasn’t the type to ask for help, but Green knew right away, no question about it, she would donate if she proved a match. It turned out she was. “She’ll get a good one, and you’ll be fine,” Green had told herself.

Her only question was: “What’s the deal on running after you donate a kidney?”

After finding Myers, she stalked him, she said, and received one of those anonymous, generic voicemail greetings when she finally called. She left an awkward message asking for his experience as a donor, and hung up. Several days later, he called back. They talked for two hours.

Green says she felt as if she knew the warm and friendly stranger and that he encouragingly told her that she’d be fine. It was a great thing she was doing, he said, and he promised that he and his wife, Holly, would be there on the day of the surgery.

“Here’s someone I don’t even know! I hadn’t even told all of my friends yet; it’s pretty heavy info, and I knew at any point it might not happen,” Green says.

Green and the Myerses stayed in touch. After one particular round of tests, Green felt overwhelmed with information. Waiting on her cellphone was a voicemail from a stranger—Kim, a friend of Myers—who was a kidney recipient. Kim said she was praying for her, and that if Green needed someone to talk to, she was there, as was Margie, her donor, who also called.

“Every time I had one of those little slips, I had someone to help me,” Green says.

Support continued to pour in from Myers, Kim and Margie, and as the surgery looked more and more like it was a sure thing, her church community and friends also offered prayers.

True to their word, the Myerses attended Green’s surgery. At this point they still hadn’t met in person. They brought food—and more food—and picked up her friend’s parents (the one who was receiving her kidney) to take them to the hospital and waited with and counseled her family and friends.

“It was wonderful having them there. Someone who had been there,” says Green. “I can’t imagine a stranger doing what he did.”

Myers has since retired from running, but Green hasn’t hung up her shoes just yet. Her recovery went well, and soon after surgery she was walking daily, which quickly progressed to light jogging. Her friend who received her kidney is also doing great.

“I sometimes forget I’ve had the surgery, but then I’ll feel a twinge and get that gentle reminder,” Green said in October. “But I’m full speed as far as driving and working, and I’m working with a personal trainer to get my strength back up and be able to do everything I was doing. It’s fun to see that on the horizon.”

That horizon wasn’t long out of reach.

Green ran the 3M Half Marathon & Relay in Austin on January 19 and says that when she realized she could run it—instead of walking it as originally planned—she was the most excited she’s ever been. Her sights are now fixed on the Zooma Half Marathon between Austin and Bastrop in April. She and Myers keep in touch, and she says she’s surprised that a stranger would become instrumental in her life.

I guess you can say that after giving the gift of life, the givers still haven’t crossed the finish. They keep on giving. And their stories keep on living.

Ashley Clary-Carpenter is field editor for Texas Co-op Power.