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‘Kidney couple’ shares their experience to promote paired donations

Chip Washington wanted to give his kidney to his ailing wife Wanda, but he wasn’t a match. Instead, his left kidney was removed Tuesday, Nov. 23, and sent to someone else who needed a transplant. That allowed Wanda to receive a compatible kidney from another donor Tuesday evening. (Courtesy of Methodist University Hospital)
Chip Washington wanted to give his kidney to his ailing wife Wanda, but he wasn’t a match. Instead, his left kidney was removed Tuesday, Nov. 23, and sent to someone else who needed a transplant. That allowed Wanda to receive a compatible kidney from another donor Tuesday evening. (Courtesy of Methodist University Hospital)

Wanda Washington, a special education teacher at Jackson Avenue Elementary, went back to work Monday, April 4, for the first time in four months.

She was so excited to be there she misplaced her car keys. She had to call her husband, Chip, to bring her a spare.

“He didn’t mind,” Wanda said with a laugh. “He’s used to bringing me a spare.”

Four months ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, Chip, 64, donated a spare kidney to a donor-matching program. In turn, Wanda, 62, on the brink of dialysis, received a kidney from someone else.

On Wednesday afternoon, the kidney couple, married for 20 years, will share their transplant experiences as the main speakers at a flag-raising ceremony at Methodist University Hospital for  opens in a new windowNational Donate Life Month.

One in four kidney transplants are made possible by living donors. One in 20 are made through paired donations. One in three pairings involve spouses.

“Wanda and I both know people who have died waiting for an organ,” said Chip, a public information officer for the Shelby County Health Department. “We just want more people to know that paired donations are a life-saving option.”

An average of 13 people die each day while waiting for a kidney transplant. Another 10 people become too sick to receive a kidney transplant.

Kidney disease is even more dire for Black Americans, who are four times more likely to suffer kidney failure and be on dialysis.

Two weeks before their surgeries, Chip and Wanda spoke by phone to two men who were part of a  opens in a new windowpaired kidney donation in Memphis last summer at the James D. Eason Transplant Institute at Methodist.

Rev. Colenzo Hubbard (left) and Lee Giovannetti have been friends for nearly 25 years. “Colenzo has a big heart,” said Becky Wilson, who has known both men for years. “So does Lee.” Their story, she said, is “the epitome of loving your neighbor as yourself.” (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)
Rev. Colenzo Hubbard (left) and Lee Giovannetti have been friends for nearly 25 years. “Colenzo has a big heart,” said Becky Wilson, who has known both men for years. “So does Lee.” Their story, she said, is “the epitome of loving your neighbor as yourself.” (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Lee Giovannetti, 65, a local businessman, donated a kidney to the exchange. That allowed his friend, Rev. Colenzo Hubbard, 66, a retired Episcopal priest, to receive a kidney transplant and end years of dialysis.

Monday evening, Giovannetti was a guest on Chip’s weekly radio talk show,  opens in a new windowReal Talk Memphis on WYXR-FM.

“You were our inspiration,” Chip told Giovannetti.

“I think we both had the same surgeon,” Giovannetti said.

Both surgeries went well. All four are doing well and have stayed in touch.

“I’ve been amazed by the whole process, and by how well I feel,” Wanda said. “I’ve got more energy. I’m exercising, eating better, drinking a lot of water for the first time in years. I’m keeping ‘precious’ well-hydrated.”

‘Precious’ is what Wanda calls her new kidney. It’s also how she feels about her special education students at Jackson Avenue Elementary.

Wanda Washington, a special education teacher at Jackson Elementary, is going back to work for the first time since she received a kidney transplant last November. (Houston Cofield/Special To The Daily Memphian)
Wanda Washington, a special education teacher at Jackson Elementary, is going back to work for the first time since she received a kidney transplant last November. (Houston Cofield/Special To The Daily Memphian)

“I’ve been off work long enough,” said Wanda, who has taught special education at three Memphis schools for 38 years. “I missed my babies.”

They missed her. Older students recognized her right away Monday. Younger ones just smiled and stared and tried to follow her out the door.

“Best day ever,” Wanda said. “I can’t wait for tomorrow.”

For more information about paired kidney donations, visit the National Kidney Registry at  opens in a new windowkidneyregistry.org.

This story first appeared at dailymemphian.com under an exclusive use agreement with The Institute.

Written By

David Waters is Distinguished Journalist in Residence and assistant director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis.

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