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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 5 years ago

Give a kidney, get a life

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Erika Treadway felt God tell her to donate a kidney to save Cindy Lescarbeau’s life. The two are now healing, after successful surgery.

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Cindy Lescarbeau lay in a hospital bed, doped up, in pain and weeping.

But these were happy tears. She was going to live.

“It’s a miraculous thing,” she said through the hurt. “It’s beyond my understanding.”

Less than a week prior, Lescarbeau woke up from surgery, a brand new kidney working inside her abdomen, turning her toxic blood clean. For the past five years, she had been in kidney failure. When she heard the news, after going to the doctor to treat a simple itch that wouldn’t pass, she didn’t know her options, she said. A mother of two, she thought for sure she was going to die.

One year left — tops.

She never dreamed that a complete stranger, Erika Treadway, would volunteer to have one of her organs removed to replace Lescarbeau’s ailing one.

“Her willingness to lay her own life down to save the life of someone else,” Lescarbeau said, “it’s just so beautiful and fulfilling and surprising.”

Both Ormond Beach residents attend Tomoka Christian Church. And when Lescarbeau’s condition worsened in 2011, the church’s pastor sent an email to the congregation asking them to pray for her.

But Treadway felt a bigger calling.

“Immediately — it was immediate — God laid it upon my heart (to be a donor),” Treadway said. “I don’t know how to describe it: It was almost like He said, “Hey you, you know those kidneys I’ve been keeping healthy for you? You’re going to give your sister your left one.”

The next day, she reached out to make the offer.

But she wasn’t the only one.

Lescabeau stopped keeping track of how many people — members of her family, as well as of the church — offered to be a donor at 37, she says. Thirty-seven people.

“I was amazed,” she said, her voice still weak. “It just blew me away.”

But donors have to be a blood and tissue match. They have to pass a multitude of tests. Everything has to be perfect. And although Treadway says she started “at the bottom of the list,” over time, things changed.

“I was her last ready, willing donor,” Treadway said.

Their blood even “played so nice together,” a nurse told them during testing, that she said it was if they were twin sisters.

Treadway laughed. “I just had to come to terms with the fact that I was carrying her left kidney.”

And the doctors confirmed it: They would take Treadway’s left organ — the same one she believes God told her to give.

“It was more affirmation,” Treadway said. “So many things lined up that I just knew that this was God’s hand.”

No turning back now

This wasn’t going to kill her. Not some silly surgery. Treadway knew that.

“I truly don’t think that we can add one day to our lives or take away one day of our lives,” she told her children before the operation. “I don’t think I went through all of this to perish on the operating table.”

And if she did, it wouldn’t be from the cuts or stitches. It would have been her time. If not by the knife, she thought, she’d be hit by a bus, or a car, or whatever.

But at least this way, Lescarbeau might survive, might go back to dancing and working and doing what she loves.

As video director at Tomoka Christian, Lescarbeau also runs Dance Divine Ministries, for 3-year-olds to high-schoolers.

“It’s just such a beautiful, positive thing,” she said of her work. “I could never imagine not doing it. ... And if it weren’t for Erika, I would’ve lost that.”

In the past, she also has traveled to Japan to teach kids about Christ. She was supposed to lead another trip in May, but doctors say travel could be difficult.

But that doesn’t mean her work is done. She and Treadway hope to start education campaigns to encourage people to consider organ donating.

It may not be religion, but it’ll work for saving souls.

“It’s life and death,” Lescarbeau said. “It’s more serious than anything I can imagine. ... I know I won’t ever want to stop helping people, but (how) just might change a bit.”

On the mend

Even though they both felt surprisingly healthy after the surgery — Treadway walked an hour and a half around the Mayo Clinic Hospital before the nurses put her back to bed — Lescarbeau was feeling the pain and nausea more heavily a week later. But then she’d check her latest lab results. And they were reassuring.

“It’s amazing how immediately after the surgery, the blood work and my blood levels, so many of them were perfect,” she said.

On a scale to 120, most people have a blood filtration level of 60, she added. Before her surgery, she dropped as low as 14 (just below the mark of needing dialysis, when transplants, and survival, become far more uncertain).

After the surgery, she was over 60.

“The toxins were purified,” she said. “It’s just a miracle.”

“As soon as they hooked the kidney up, it started working,” Treadway added — it didn’t temporarily “go to sleep,” like the doctors said so many do. “That choked me up a bit.”

Treadway is already back home, already walking three miles a day, down to just over-the-counter Tylenol.

“If it wasn’t for the nausea .... I feel like I can do anything,” she said.

And even though Lescarbeau still has a month left to stay at the Gabriel House of Care — a facility for cancer and transplant patients — even though she’s still choking down 28 pills a day and it’ll still be six months before she’s back to, or better than, normal, she’s looking forward to all those dances she’ll be able lead in the future.

“Because of Erika,” she said, “I can just take a month or two off from my work. I don’t have to quit.”

Blood sisters

Give someone an organ and it does more than keep them alive, Lescarbeau says. It keeps them in your life.

Less than a year after their first meeting, Treadway and Lescarbeau went from strangers to friends to family to blood relatives.

“(Transplants) create an amazing bond between the donor and the recipient,” Lescarbeau said. “I feel so close to Erika, and I’m just thankful because I know that we’ll always be close and have such a beautiful bond that I don’t think we could have had in any other way.”

She starts to cry — “I’m sorry” — wipes her tears.

“I feel like she’s my sister,” she said. “It’s like God gave me a kidney and God gave her a second family.”

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