By Amy Schwab, sister
Elizabeth and her brother Rick, who is celebrating 25 years with a living donor kidney transplant
Elizabeth Ann Schwab Stevens–daughter, sister, wife, friend, aunt, co worker. These are just superficial ways to describe Beth. Beth is also a person who donated a kidney to her brother. She is the sister who, with her selfless act, has allowed him to share 26 more years of living with those who love him. That is a much better descriptor of Beth.
It was 1983; Beth was in college when Rick needed a transplant. There are nine siblings in the family. Beth stepped forward right away to be tested. She stepped forward again to donate when she found out she was a perfect match. The surgery barely slowed her. While she was in the hospital recuperating, she watched soap operas in the afternoon. She was an easy patient to care for, but the nurses longed to be in her room during the early afternoon so they too could catch up on the soaps! (Of course they were working hard too!!) Surgery didn't have ill effects on her and neither did the recovery. The scar is quite large, but Beth never cared. She says she always feels “privileged” when she completes medical history forms and writes kidney donor. She even has to feel for the scar to remember which side it is on! Neither the mental nor physical aspects of the surgery changed her plans. Beth went on to complete college after the surgery and graduated from the University of Kentucky.
Today, she leads a full and busy life. Beth is married and lives in Florida with her husband, Mike. She is so compassionate and giving. She is an excellent cook. She quilts. She is a breast cancer survivor. She's creative. She is devoted to her family and friends. She is kind and generous. And…she still doesn't think she did anything that special! She believes any one would donate an organ. She has no idea how many people are unwilling to donate–how many people think it would be too dangerous, would take too long to heal, or wouldn't make that much of a difference in someone's life. Beth is an excellent example of putting someone else's needs first. She saw a need, had the desire to help and followed through. How many of us think we can put it off until “tomorrow?” Her husband, Mike, thinks this is just another way Beth is unique.
She works full time at Walt Disney World's 5 Diamond restaurant. There are many celebrations at this great restaurant. Beth had one guest who came in to celebrate the first anniversary of his kidney transplant. She was able to say her brother was celebrating the 23rd anniversary of his transplant that year. Talk about giving hope to someone! This guest has stopped by since then just to check in–even when he isn't dining there. Beth will even make sure to check on guests that may not be at her tables if she hears they are celebrating a transplant anniversary. Can you imagine what happiness, hope and inspiration she brings to them? She does this for her family and friends every day. Beth told me that this year at Disney, the big theme is “What will you Celebrate?” We will celebrate life and our favorite transplant donor. But all donors should be celebrated and honored.
Rick and Beth share a great bond. The anniversary is important to both of them. Rick would go to the ends of the world for Beth. The best part is–he can!! Rick keeps a picture of Beth on his desk at work so he can thank her daily and remember how different his life could have been. Family is very important to both of them. We frequently visit them in Florida. Beth comes to Kentucky, and it always seems like just yesterday she was the girl in college who thought she would take a semester off of school to donate her kidney. You see, in Beth's mind, it really was that simple. I can't even begin to imagine how one would feel if something happened to the other one. Rick doesn't forget this anniversary–ever. It is the most special day of the year for him.
They have so many great times and stories they share. One was in the very beginning. It occurred while they were waiting for the surgery to begin. Beth and Rick were in the holding area together. Not wanting to keep things too serious, and also having been given some drugs already, Rick told Beth not to worry unless she heard the doctors and nurses talk about “lobotomies”!
Beth won the Heart of Gold Award the year following the transplant for this gift of life. But in our home, there are not enough accolades for Beth. She does have a true heart of gold. We know what a blessing she has given us. I only hope that her story will help others realize the gift they can give.
I asked some of the family to describe Beth in one or two words. This is how our family sees her: humble, unbelievably selfless, personable, gracious, giving, fun, a gift, a blessing, courageous. Wouldn't we all like to be described that way? I personally can't think of Beth without a smile coming to my face, tears to my eyes and joy in my heart. You see, Beth didn't just vastly improve the quality of Rick's life. She affected Rick's family, friends and co workers. How can you thank someone for this gift? When I thanked Beth for allowing me to write this article, her response was; “I did get a lot more from it than I gave; one week in the hospital and I got my brother for at the very least another 26 years–so I win!!!” That in itself is worth the world to me!” Beth should be a spokesperson for organ donation.
Beth is looking forward to having this transplant be in the Guinness Book of World Records someday. With 26 years since the big day, they may be well on their way. I do know that with the combined spirit of Beth, Rick and Butch (the kidney!); they can do whatever they set their minds to.
Editor's Note: The Summer 2009 issue of Transplant Chronicles featured an article about Rick. This article was solicited because readers wrote to us and asked “How is the living donor doing?” Read about Rick at: http://www.kidney.org/transplantation/transAction/TCsm09_HusbandDoingWell.cfm.