donation a true gift of love
Courain (right), director of Volunteer Services in the Medical
Center, donated a kidney to her friend and long-time hospital
volunteer Teeny Higginbotham.
the U.Va. Medical Center
has a No. 1 fan, its Teeny Higginbotham. After all, U.Va.
has saved her life twice and her eyesight once. And the person
at U.Va. she loves the most right now is Liz Courain.
is the director of Volunteer Services, and Higginbotham was one
of her volunteers for nine years. When Courain learned 14 months
ago that her worker was in failing health because of acute renal
failure, with both kidneys barely functioning, she made the decision
to donate one of her own kidneys to Higginbotham.
operation took place Sept. 27, and it was a life-changing experience
for both. Despite some rocky times, Higginbotham has been recuperating
at home with her family in Madison Heights, just north of Lynchburg.
Courain is back at work and ecstatic about being able to help
save her friends life.
had the opportunity to participate in a miracle, Courain
said. It has been one of the best opportunities Ive
57-year-old Higginbotham has struggled with an array of emotions
since the operation, especially since she has spent so much time
in the hospital, battling a rejection episode. But one thing is
clear. I love Liz and appreciate what she has done,
she has visited with Courain briefly during trips to the hospital,
she said she needs a long visit to work through her feelings.
I need to sit down and have a 12-hour conversation with
Liz. It would take that long.
appears finally to be making progress. The hard part is
over. After the operation, I thought it would be a week, but I
was in and out of the hospital until mid-November. But she
is doing better, and hoped to be back to normal by Christmas.
she had to stop volunteering, Higginbotham made the 55-mile trek
to U.Va. twice a week to work at the hospital. She began about
the time Courain became director in 1992.
loyalty lies with U.Va., she explained. In 1986, faced with
a brain tumor, she was told by doctors at another hospital that
they could not help her. God sent me to U.Va., she
recalled, and U.Va. saved my life. They went after it
and got it.
later lost her eyesight, however, and went through white
cane lessons. She remembers it as a period of personal hell.
But U.Va. again came to the rescue. Ophthalmology got my
eyesight back. Thats why I love that hospital for
all that it can do.
I encountered was special, she said. I could not believe
the amount of support we got from the workers. I was just overwhelmed.
family also has been a great source of support. Her son Bill,
29, and daughter, Jill, 27, and her husband, Lewis the
most blessed man you would ever meet have helped
to nurse her back to health.
Courain did not know Higginbotham socially, she worked closely
with her for nine years. Teeny is an exceptional person,
Courain said. She gives time for staff and patients with
love and enthusiasm. And she loves our staff.
thoughts about donating began in November 2000, when Higginbotham
told her she would be resigning. I was disturbed,
Courain said. After she left my office, my thought was that
someone should step forward to donate. A little voice in my head
said why not you? I couldnt get it out of my
head. She believes what she heard was the voice of
began to do research. I went to Body Talk, talked to nurses and
learned until I became comfortable, she said. I also
went to my own doctor, my husband, supervisor and colleagues.
Everyone said they would support me.
46, said the decision to donate ultimately wasnt difficult.
Its a cause I have always believed in, she explained,
adding that she is a regular blood donor and is on the list to
donate blood marrow. When she was in college, she went door-to-door
asking people for cornea-donation pledges. To me, donations
are the ultimate we can do for one another, she said.
the decision was made, Courain called the Higginbothams to ask
if she and her husband could visit them at their home. I
told them, I have a surprise for you. The visit was
on the Thursday after Christmas, Dec. 28, 2000.
was speechless, Courain recalls. It was an emotional
evening, and we went home without knowing her decision. ... A
few days later, she called and said, Lets go for it.
after, Courain and the Higginbothams attended a class to learn
about the issues involved with transplantation. The process, which
included extensive testing, started on Valentines Day and
lasted until the transplant.
no time did Courain have second thoughts. In fact, the only
hard thing was not knowing if it would happen or when. The testing
and medical care wasnt hard or frightening, she said.
surgery, performed by Dr. Robert Sawyer, took six hours, and she
was in the hospital for 21û2 days and away from work for three
weeks. Higginbothams surgeon was Dr. Timothy Pruett, and
she initially was in the hospital for 17 days, but had to return
said there are two things her experience can teach others. First,
the fact that you dont have to be related to a person to
she said, people can learn that living donors make the actual
transplant of a kidney so much better. The two surgeons
work is parallel as they orchestrate the surgeries, she said,
and the kidney never stops being a kidney. Otherwise,
she said, the transplant team has to get the kidney going
again, and it can be hard on the recipient.
said her example of donating a kidney has already had an effect.
A woman has already come to me to ask about the experience,
she said. She told me Im considering becoming
from the Dec. 17 issue of Link.