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Arts & Life

Childhood friends celebrate anniversary of kidney donation & transplant

roti story pht.jpg
Courtesy photo
June Edwards (left) and Sandy Henry re-create a cheerleading photo from their Andes Central High School days. They re-created the photo the day before their surgeries. April 2021, Henry donated her kidney to Edwards.

In recognition of Donate Life Month, SDPB's Lura Roti brings us this story of two childhood friends who reconnected and will forever be connected because of a kidney donation and transplant.

One year ago today, on April 6, 2021, Sandy Henry awoke in a Mayo hospital bed. Her doctor walked in and let her know the surgery went well.

“She said, “Sandy, you gave June a perfect Kidney.” That was just music to my ears. It was a powerful thing to hear,” Henry says.

June Edwards is Henry’s childhood friend. Both women are 1973 graduates of Andes Central High School.

Sandy Henry.

“We took all our classes together. Did so many things - music and cheerleading and all kinds of things together for those years,” Sandy Henry says.

“Yeah, extracurriculars. We all volunteered for everything,” Edwards says.

June Edwards’ was the second voice you heard.

After high school the friends went on to the University of South Dakota together. But they took up different majors. And as often happens to high school friends, Henry and Edwards grew apart.

Henry went on to a career as a middle school teacher in Sioux Falls. Edwards became a family practice nurse practitioner in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Then a few years ago, the two friends reconnected. They began chatting almost daily via Facebook Messenger.

“I can’t even describe that connection. The feeling of reconnecting with June. It was just this home feeling. I looked forward to our conversations each night,” Henry says.

It was during one of their evening chats that Henry learned from another high school friend who joined in the thread that Edwards needed a kidney.

June Edwards.

“It’s called polycystic kidney disease and it causes the kidneys to grow cysts. They take over the normal kidney tissue and eventually, the kidneys don’t work well enough, and you need a transplant. And in our family, that’s about age 65. And that’s about exactly when I needed a transplant,” Edwards says.

After hearing about her friend’s need, Sandy Henry knew she would donate her kidney.

“It was just like this lightening bolt of “you can do this,’” Henry says.

Sure enough, after tests and a thorough health screening, Mayo Clinic doctors determined Henry to be healthy enough to donate a kidney. And her kidney was a match for Edwards.

“Sandy called me one day and said, “we are a match. We are going to do this.” She was the only person that said, “I will give you a kidney,’” Edwards says.

And to be the age we are, and be healthy enough to give me one, for us to match, is pretty much a miracle. …There are not even words that I can put to this. …Sandy just kept saying, “this is meant to be.”

“I knew it would work,” Henry says.

“I kinda got the tears right now,” Edwards says.

“Me too,” Henry says.

For June Edwards to match with a live donor is significant, explains Mayo transplant surgeon Mikel Prieto.

“Advantages of doing it with a living donor is, first of all, you get a good healthy organ from a person who is alive. The transplant happens right away from a person that is alive. Also, you do not have to wait five to seven years. As soon as you have a donor, that is willing to give you a kidney, we can schedule the transplant and within a few weeks you will have a new kidney. It is essentially, a life-saving advantage for many, many people. And as in the story of June and Sandy, its just a wonderful thing to do and it changes someone’s life,” Prieto says.

Dr. Prieto adds that even if a donor’s kidney is not a match, having a willing, live donor means a person in need of a kidney does not have to wait for a transplant.

“Matching is less and less important these days because we are doing a lot of kidney pair donation – which means we swap kidneys. In other words, if Sandy’s kidney would not have been a good match for June, we could have used Sandy’s kidney for someone else. But that would allow June to get a transplant,” Prieto says.

Sandy Henry understands the impact her donated kidney has on her friend’s quality of life. However, she says donating a kidney has also had a profound impact on her life.

“I’ve said this many times, but I feel like I am the one who received through this… I would say it is the best thing I have ever done for someone and how much I have received from being able to help my friend,” Henry says.

Sandy Henry fully recovered within six weeks of donating her kidney. And today, on the anniversary of her kidney transplant, her friend, June Edwards is living a full and healthy life.

To learn more about Donate Life Month visit https://www.donatelife.net/ndlm/