Match made in heaven
A friendship that grew under the roof at Russellville First Baptist Church recently turned into a literal match made in heaven.
In May, Monica Balding, a fifth grade teacher at Russellville Elementary School, donated a kidney to long-time friend Stanley Allison, former publisher of the Franklin County Times. The donation gave Allison a chance at a healthy existence, and marked what doctors hope will be the end of his long and arduous journey.
Balding's own journey to organ donation began two years ago while at a ladies retreat with her church. It was there that she found out Allison had a powerful supporter in his corner, one who led Balding to believe she could help.
"I remember God said plainly, 'You have it. He needs it. You should share it'," Balding said. "I don't feel I had ever had such a direct order [from God] before, except who to marry."
From that point on, Balding took immediate action to become an organ donor for her friend.
Balding had the initial blood work done as soon as she could, but another match was found while they were waiting on the results.
Allison's sister, Linda Phipps, was a match. When a match was found, UAB stopped testing other possible donors.
"When his sister was a match I thought that God was testing me to see if I would follow his instructions," Balding said.
In September 2005, Phipps gave her brother one of her kidneys. Allison's two existing kidneys, referred to by doctors as "native kidneys" were not removed during that operation.
While Allison did see some improvement, his sister's kidney was not functioning well with his native kidneys, which were filled with cysts that restricted blood flow.
"In May 2006, I had my native kidneys removed," Allison said.
In addition to the problems caused by his native kidneys, doctors determined that Allison had contracted a virus caused by too much anti-rejection medication.
"Doctors at UAB have only known about the virus' existence for about a year and a half," Allison said.
The hunt was back on for another donor, but Allison's wife, Betty, told the doctors that she knew where to turn – the pews at the Allison's church.
"She turned to me and said, 'What about Monica?'" Stanley said.
Balding passed all her blood work and she was cleared as a match. She spent two days at UAB undergoing more tests to see if one of her kidneys would be suitable for Allison.
"The doctors found that I had two healthy kidneys," Balding said. "They took my left kidney because it was easier to get to than the right."
Surgery was set for May 25.
The doctors removed Allison's first donor kidney and replaced it with a healthy kidney from Balding.
Allison remained in Birmingham for several weeks after receiving his new kidney, while Balding was released from the hospital the following Monday.
Both Allison and Balding have been back in their Russellville homes for several weeks and their health continues to improve daily.
However, Balding said she was much happier about seeing Allison's condition get better each day, as he has battled polycystic kidney disease for more than two decades.
"I don't think that his feeling good is the same as our feeling good because he's been sick for so long," Balding said, adding had she not given Allison one of her kidneys, she would have missed a blessing.