By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MONTROSE, MN People say the best gifts come from within, and Fran Smith of Montrose couldn’t agree more.
She recently received a kidney from Chris Brazelton of Delano, a woman she had only briefly met before the surgery.
“How do you repay someone who has given you a second chance at life?” Smith asked.
But Brazelton isn’t one to expect anything in return.
“I think it’s what God would want us to do,” she said.
Thanks to Brazelton’s selfless gift, both women have gained new friendships and a fresh look at life.
“Your circle of friends embraced me,” Brazelton told Smith.
“We’ve ‘extended’ our families,” Smith added.
A heart for helping
Brazelton is an avid blood donor, but she hadn’t considered donating a kidney until she heard Smith’s friends talking about the situation at a Delano Artists Guild meeting last summer.
Brazelton, who was at the meeting as part of the Delano Dream Team II, didn’t know Smith at the time.
“At the end of the meeting, I had this strong feeling to help if I could,” she said.
Smith, who had been diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in January 2009, never expected a stranger to be her donor.
“She gave me her card after the meeting, and I thought, ‘Oh, she’s probably just kidding,’” Smith said.
A month later, after Brazelton had passed the first round of medical tests, Smith got a call.
“Then, I thought, “Oh, she’s serious,” Smith laughed.
After passing “round one,” Brazelton went through the second phase of testing, which included a full physical and psychological exam.
“We knew in early October that I was a match,” she said, and they scheduled the surgery for Oct. 19.
Brazelton displayed bravery throughout the entire process, but admits that she was a little afraid.
“It really hit home when they gave me this whole ‘living will’ packet,” she said. “On another level, though, I really wasn’t worried.”
Brazelton waited to tell her family, including her husband, Larry, and daughter, Nicole, until a few weeks before the surgery.
“My husband knows that I’m headstrong when I make a decision, so he was OK,” Brazelton said.
Typically, donating a kidney doesn’t pose a major health risk to a healthy donor, according to the Mayo Clinic web site.
“More than 98 percent have no trouble,” Brazelton said.
Unfortunately, Brazelton ended up being in that “2 percent” category.
A vein didn’t seal properly during the surgery, and Brazelton started to bleed internally.
“They had to take me back into surgery,” she said. “I had four liters of blood in my abdomen.”
Smith was released from the hospital at the end of the first week, and Brazelton went home the following week.
“My recovery is very atypical,” Brazelton said.
Despite the unexpected difficulties, Brazelton said she doesn’t regret her decision.
“I would do it again,” she said.
Even after the surgery, Brazelton continued to think about Smith’s well being.
“During my recovery, Chris brought over the best lasagna and cake,” Smith said.
“I’ve got an investment in her doing well, now,” Chris laughed in response.
Smith said she is extremely grateful that Brazelton donated a kidney for her.
“It’s so overwhelming that someone is doing this for you,” Smith said.
Instead of trying to think of ways to “pay” Brazelton back, however, Smith said she’s decided to “pay it forward.”
“If someone needs something, I am more than willing to help,” Smith said.
Before and after
Before the kidney transplant, Smith had been in dialysis three days a week for three hours at a time.
“Dialysis was really scary at first,” she said. “I had a catheter in my neck.”
The process involves cleaning the blood, and it’s an artificial replacement for kidney function.
Now, thanks to her new kidney, Smith is able to work a little bit again, at her own transportation brokerage company.
“I have three kidneys now,” Smith laughed. “I pat ‘her’ every morning.”
Smith’s husband, Tim, and adult sons, Patrick and Michael, are thankful that Smith’s recovery is going well.
Brazelton, a child support officer for Wright County, is getting back into her normal routine, as well.
The women have stayed connected in the months after the surgery, and their families have gotten to know each other, as well.
“We have a lot in common,” Smith said.
Both Smith and Brazelton encourage anyone who is interested to consider donating a kidney to someone in need.
“There are so many people who could use an organ transplant,” Smith said.
“And so many people are dying for want of it,” added Brazelton.
More information about kidney donation is available at www.mayoclinic.org.
“It’s something to think about,” Smith said. “It’s always a good thing to give someone a chance at life.”