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Seemingly odd couple make a perfect match

Seemingly odd couple make a perfect match
Seemingly odd couple make a perfect match | Seemingly odd couple make a perfect match

Rachel Summerlin and Jasmin Williams
Staff Reporter
Jasmin Williams and Rachel Summerlin are as different as night and day.
Yet they’re a perfect match.
The two come from different parts of West Tennessee, have entirely different interests and look nothing alike, yet they formed a special bond when Ms. Williams — a 23-year-old from Obion — received a life-saving kidney donation from Ms. Summerlin — a 21-year-old from Eads — in late March.
The young women actually crossed paths as far back as 2006 as high school participants in Tennessee Teen Institute, a statewide alcohol and drug prevention program, but it wasn’t until 2011 that they became closer than ever.
Ms. Williams, an Obion County Central High School graduate who is now a pre-med student at Lane College in Jackson, learned three years ago that her kidneys had shut down.
She said she went to a doctor to find out what was causing her illness and was first told it was an allergic reaction to some medicine. But a week later, she was still feeling sick with symptoms that included itchy skin, sleepiness and a puffy face. A visit to a Smyrna hospital led to the discovery that her kidneys had stopped functioning.
She began dialysis Feb. 13, 2009, first going for treatment three days a week for four hours at a time. Later, she changed to a method where she had a tube placed in her stomach and hooked herself to a machine at home every night for nine hours.
Although it was restrictive, a determined Ms. Williams made it work while balancing school and a job.
She learned in 2009 that she needed a new kidney.
In 2010, both Ms. Wil-liams and Ms. Summerlin returned to the peer-led Tennessee Teen Institute (TTI) leadership camp as staff members when the camps from the state’s three regions combined for one giant statewide TTI camp at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville.
Even though their paths crossed often, Ms. Summer-lin still didn’t know Ms. Williams was sick since her friend would discreetly leave camp during the week and take dialysis at a clinic in the Clarksville area.
“I still tried to live life as normal as possible,” Ms. Williams said.
A friend in need
Both were back on staff at TTI in 2011 and then returned to Nashville in November 2011 for a first-ever TTI staff retreat. This time, Ms. Williams brought all of her dialysis equipment with her.
TTI director Kristi Townes of Union City knew Ms. Williams was on dialysis, but Ms. Summerlin simply knew her as a fellow staff member and part of her “TTI family.”
During some down time at the retreat, Ms. Summerlin walked into the room they shared and found Ms. Williams lying on the bed. She asked if she was feeling alright.
“She doesn’t ever lie still. She’s very energetic,” Ms. Summerlin said.
Ms. Williams told her she was fine and a skeptical Ms. Summerlin decided not to push the matter. A few minutes later, Ms. Williams shared with her friend that she was doing dialysis.
“I said ‘You’re too young to be on dialysis,’” Ms. Summerlin said. “I was overwhelmed, I guess. I couldn’t believe it, that she was sick this whole time. … I said ‘Really? No one told me.’”
Ms. Summerlin then discovered Ms. Williams had been on the transplant list for a kidney for three years and that both her kidneys had stopped working for some unknown reason.
“I said ‘Have one of mine.’ And she goes ‘Are you serious?’ I said ‘I can still live with one kidney, right? You only need one. Just take it. You need it, girl. Take it,’” Ms. Summerlin recalled.
Ms. Williams was somewhat overwhelmed and ran away, leaving Ms. Summerlin to wonder if she had offended her friend. She later approached her back in their room.
“I just said take my kidney. What did I do,” she asked.
Ms. Williams told her friend she couldn’t be serious — but Ms. Summerlin was very serious and determined to help.
“I said ‘I don’t know if it’s any good, but you’re more than welcome to have it, if it is.’ And she was like ‘Are you serious?’ I said ‘Just cut me open and take it,’” Ms. Summerlin said.
The talk turned more serious the next day and the two young women realized their blood types were compatible. They exchanged phone numbers and parted ways, Ms. Summerlin armed with a telephone number for Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.
She called Vanderbilt and explained she wanted to donate a kidney to a friend, then was directed to a fill out an online organ donation sheet that allowed her to designate a specific recipient for her kidney.
Someone from Vanderbilt called a couple days later and Ms. Summerlin said, “When can we do the surgery?”
However, she quickly learned there was more to be done before a transplant could be arranged.
Ms. Summerlin learned she would receive a test kit from Vanderbilt and would need to return her blood samples. When the kit hadn’t arrived after a month, she called back to Vanderbilt the first weekend in December 2011.
“I said ‘My friend really needs this organ and I need to get it to her now,’” she said.
The kit was sent to her by overnight express and arrived about 5 p.m. the next day. She immediately rushed to a hospital in Fayette County to have the blood samples drawn and a nurse helped her follow the instructions for returning the samples to Vanderbilt.
The day after Christmas, Ms. Summerlin received good news.
“We found out that we were not only a match, we were a perfect match,” she said.
An excited Ms. Williams called Mrs. Townes in Union City the day after Christmas to share the news.
“Jasmin said, ‘Did you hear my news? Rachel’s giving me a kidney.’ I just sat there for like 30 minutes,” Mrs. Townes said.
Reality check
Ms. Summerlin reported Jan. 27 for a complete physical and a battery of tests that included a CT scan, chest X-ray, the drawing of 15 tubes of blood and much, much more. She also had to see a psychologist to ensure she was sane and wasn’t being blackmailed or paid for the organ she wished to donate.
She said reality began to set in for her and her family during this time.
She explained there is a committee which meets every two weeks to discuss donors and recipients, but her review was delayed when one of her tests came back abnormal and doctors wanted to check something further. A test was redone and it ended up being nothing.
The young women’s case finally came up for discussion before the committee at the end of February and Ms. Summerlin received a call “that we were good to go” for transplant surgery — scheduled for March 27.
After everything was confirmed, the two women celebrated and got their families together so they could finally meet for the first time.
Ms. Summerlin said her parents backed her decision 100 percent. They actually sat down together and decided that if anything should happen to Ms. Summerlin before the surgery, they would make certain Ms. Williams received one or both of their daughter’s kidneys, depending on the circumstances.
“They were going to follow through,” she said. “I called Jasmin and she started tearing up. I said, ‘Even if I’m not here physically to say I want it done, my parents are going to make sure you get these kidneys.’”
Meant to be
Both young women reported bright and early to Vanderbilt on March 27 for a surgery that lasted four to five hours. Ms. Summerlin went under about 7:30 a.m. and Ms. Williams was wheeled into surgery about 10 a.m. to receive her new kidney.
Mrs. Townes’ church sent prayer shawls for the young women and she posted the activity on her Facebook page to keep family and friends — including TTI participants and staff nationwide — updated. Word spread quickly and the support was overwhelming.
The two friends stayed in hospital rooms next door to each other for three days before being released.
Ms. Summerlin said the surgery went remarkably well and there were no complications.
“They usually have to make the organ start working when it’s attached, but my kidney immediately started working without doing anything,” she said. “That’s one of the things that we really believe shows it was meant to be, because it already knew what to do. It didn’t have to be provoked, they didn’t have to shock it. They tied it up and it worked.”
Ms. Williams said her new kidney is “running at 100 percent” since being attached. She still returns to Nashville every week to have her blood and urine checked, but there have been no signs of rejection.
“Everything’s great,” she said.
When she first went on the transplant list, doctors told her she needed to lose 15 to 20 pounds to have a successful surgery. She lost 130 pounds.
“I feel great. This is the best I’ve felt in years,” she said.
Another sure sign that the surgery was “meant to be” was the fact that Ms. Williams wasn’t even supposed to be at the TTI staff retreat back in November. She was supposed to go overseas and study abroad during the fall; but the week before her departure, she learned she wasn’t approved to receive dialysis overseas.
“Things happen for a reason, and this is one of those moments when you just go OK, here it is,” Mrs. Townes said.
Life-changing decision
Ms. Williams is now nearing the completion of a book, “Overcoming Adversity,” which tells about obstacles she has overcome in life.
“I couldn’t finish the last chapter until after I received a kidney transplant, so now it’s almost finished,” she said.
She will be going to Texas for the summer to work and plans to be at TTI camp next year. Her goal is to become a pediatric nephrologist — a children’s kidney doctor — in order to help others.
Ms. Summerlin is trying to decide what to do. She served some time in the military and recently returned to a job with a pizza delivery business, but wants to get back into shape and go into law enforcement. She also wants to become more involved with TTI in the future and has been asked to apply for Georgia’s Teen Institute.
Since the surgery, Ms. Summerlin said a lot of people questioned her decision to be an organ donor for someone she barely knew, but she never hesitated.
“We are family at Teen Institute. When we say it, we mean it. I didn’t have a reason not to do it. That was the biggest thing,” she said.
“There’s always going to be a part of Rachel in me,” Ms. Williams said.
Ms. Summerlin — who is white — said she and Ms. Williams — who is black — overcame a lot of boundaries, but race was never an issue.
“A lot of people don’t realize that organs don’t have a color. Blood is blood,” Ms. Summerlin said. “A lot of people, when they find out Jasmin is black, can’t believe that we matched. It doesn’t seem important to me. I wasn’t raised that way.”
Ms. Summerlin also learned that both her grandmothers apparently lived with one kidney each and didn’t even know it until they died.
“If my grandmothers can do it, obviously I can do it,” she said.
Ms. Williams said she still gets emotional when she thinks about her friend’s life-saving gift.
“I still cry sometimes when I think about it because it’s just … it seems unreal to me,” she said. “I sit there and think, ‘God, this is really my life. You made somebody and then decided to give me their organ.’ It just seems so surreal to me.”
“People ask what I was thinking,” Ms. Summerlin added. “When she said she needed a kidney, the first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Take mine.’ It was already planted in my head that’s what I was supposed to do.
“It’s definitely been a life-changer,” she said.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at
Published in The Messenger 5.7.12

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