Jersey Village Teacher Becomes a Living Kidney Donor

Bridget Smalley was always a familiar face at church. She sang alto in the choir, attended weekly Bible studies and rarely missed a Sunday service. 

So when she abruptly missed months of church services last fall, her close friend, Inyang Ekong, a local teacher, grew worried. Inyang sang with Bridget in the church choir, but she had no idea Bridget’s health was in jeopardy.

“I couldn’t imagine just doing life and her not being there,” Inyang says. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Bridget had struggled quietly for 26 years with a deadly genetic kidney disease called polycystic kidney disease. Cysts grow on the kidneys blocking the organs from cleaning the body’s toxins. The condition is so severe, that when Bridget was first diagnosed, a young doctor told her she had only five years to live. She received a kidney transplant eight years ago, but that organ was failed too. By January, Bridget had battled gout, struggled to walk and was on dialysis. And by February, when she finally returned to church, she had little hope for healing.

“I thought that I would be on dialysis until who knows when,” Bridget says, “and that I would just get sicker and sicker and not have much of a life except what that machine can do for me.”

When Inyang finally learned about her friend’s dire health, she was moved to action. She gave her a call and offered Bridget her own kidney.

“She thought I was crazy,” Inyang says.

“I said, ‘Hold your horses here,’” Bridget says. “’You’re single. You don’t have kids. You really have to think about it.’”

Inyang’s resolve never wavered. While Bridget was “cautiously optimistic,” Inyang was making room in her summer teaching break for transplant surgery.

Before a patient can receive a kidney, both the donor and patient must pass extensive physical tests. The donor and recipient’s blood and tissue types must match, and both people must be healthy enough to survive the surgery. After all the tests were done, Inyang was a match, and the two had successful surgery in July. Inyang’s kidney immediately began clearing Bridget’s body of toxins, and the two were home within days of the procedure.

“Sometimes I can’t believe that this actually happened,” Inyang says. “But then I have to look down on my left side, and I have four scars.”

Inyang, who is an avid fitness enthusiast, says she’s in better shape now than before she donated her kidney. She works out several times a week and has lost weight. Bridget, meanwhile, plans to sing again in the church choir and hopes to spend more time with her grandchildren this holiday season. She’s thankful for her friend Inyang whose organ donation changed her life. 

“I was existing,” Bridget says, describing her life before the transplant, “but I wasn’t living. This gift of a kidney—what Inyang has done for me—I’m living.”

According to the U.S. government information on organ donation and transplantation, more than 113,000 men, women and children are on the national transplant waiting list as of January 2019. More than 36,000 transplants were performed in 2018, a record high for the sixth consecutive year. In 2018, there were a total of 17,773 donors, among which 39% (6,831) were living donors.

Find out more about becoming a kidney donor by visiting Kidney.org.