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Giving up part of herself

It's easy to donate a kidney when you die. But it's a struggle when you're still alive.

By JUSTIN GEORGE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 1, 2007


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About this story

Nicki Bradley helped a reporter re-create feelings and conversations experienced during her thought process. "Deciding," an occasional series, offers insights on the choices people make.

RIVERVIEW - She came home from work and asked her husband about his day, holding back the question pressing on her mind.

Nicki Bradley, 38, fixed dinner and bathed her twins. When her husband played solitaire on the computer, Nicki ran a bubble bath and bared her soul to God.

It had started a day earlier in a phone call with her best friend, Denise Robinson, whose husband, Alex, was on dialysis. By the end of the conversation, Nicki had volunteered, "Well, maybe I can give Alex a kidney."

Denise was incredulous, but Nicki was serious enough to call LifeLink, the nonprofit transplant organization, to learn more.

Nicki had always marked organ donor on her driver's license, an easy pledge fulfilled in death. But here, she was contemplating giving of her living self.

She sat in the bathtub and asked God if it was the right thing to do. She was a mother of three and a wife. Her parents had taught her that choices bring consequences, and life had reinforced the lesson, bringing a daughter before a marriage. What if something went wrong?

She prayed, like always. She speaks to God in the parking lot before she punches in as a financial aid processor at Florida Metropolitan University. She teaches teen choir at St. James AME Church, attends Bible study and trusts God to guide her.

But she questioned him when a car crash killed her 20-year-old niece earlier this year. At the memorial service, someone stood up and said there's never a good time for death. God takes us when he wants. In the meantime, he loans us to each other.

She asked God for a "burning bush," a sign. If she was going to give up a kidney, she wanted to be sure.

She climbed out of the bathtub and went to bed. She took her kids to school the next morning, sat on the couch and prayed again. John 3:16 flashed in her mind.

If Jesus gave his life for her, she thought, what was a kidney?

In the weeks that followed, Nicki learned that 20 percent of donors experience some medical complication and that the surgery hurts the givers more than the receivers.

She listened to her husband's and father's concerns, and even wrote letters to relatives who didn't understand.

She told people, "I can only answer for myself," when they asked why Alex's siblings couldn't make the sacrifice.

She told a psychologist it would be an even more poignant testimony of selfless giving if Alex's body rejected her gift.

Reality hit in the operating room as her pastor held her hand and her family and church members prayed in the halls.

She closed her eyes and woke up nauseated, a 4-inch scar parallel to her belt, missing nothing but a kidney.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 1, 2007, 00:34:49]


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