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Kidney Kinship

Wednesday, Jan. 15 | By Julie Taylor
Virginia Gerrish and Dudley Payne get together to reminisce about the recent transplant.
If you saw Virginia Gerrish around town, you would notice her quiet smile and comfortable demeanor. Her unassuming personality would never prepare you for the tale of how she literally gave a piece of herself, so that a friend would thrive. Judge Dudley Payne met Gerrish for the first time at her wedding in 1994—which he presided over.

"He and Dave were friends so he didn't charge us," joked Gerrish about her husband and Payne. Throughout the decades, the friendship was steadfast.

"Her husband Dave and I would go on exercise walks," said Payne. "During the course of one of those walks he saw I was struggling. He asked me what was going on so I went ahead and told him about the kidney thing. We talked about the transplant process."

Payne told his friend about how unlikely it would be to receive a kidney from a deceased donor, coupled with the fact that the success rate is not very great. If Payne could not receive a kidney, he would begin the process of dialysis within a matter of months.

Dave Gerrish immediately told Payne that he could have one of his kidneys, and placed a call to the transplant center for consideration. Sadly, medical factors made them incompatible. Dave's wife felt sympathetic and wanted to just, "throw my name in the hat to see if I was a match. Hubby said absolutely not," said Virginia Gerrish.

With numerous tests to pass and approvals to gain, Virginia would not have been surprised to have come to a roadblock, but somehow she made it through the transplant interview, the CT scan, a variety of physical health tests and received the OK from the dietitian, her OB-GYN, the surgeon, the doctor and the entire hospital board, to name just a few. Virginia had been planning to proceed with the donation anonymously, but near the end of the process she learned that since she was a "designated donor" all information had to be on the table.

"I was too chicken to tell Dudley and so Dave did it for me," said Virginia.

"On one of our walks, Dave tells me," Payne said. "He's a very reserved unparalleled gentleman; I could tell he was trying to tell me something, so finally he just blurts it out. It was one of the few times in my life I was speechless. " The announcement came at a time when Payne was physically preparing for dialysis.

"I was pretty sick; couldn't finish a round of golf, which is one of my passions," Payne said.

"By the time I got the operation, I was down to 10 percent of normal [kidney usage]. They had a fancy name for it: end stage renal disease. I was in a nose dive," he said. "I was hanging on by the point we got to the day."

Finally it was time for the big switch. In pre-op, Virginia was asked to initial her side with a magic marker. This was her first time undergoing general anesthesia.

"I was trying to be in the moment, be aware that this was an experience that I didn't want to miss any of. I felt ready. Ready and willing," Virginia said.

Payne was "Naturally anxious about the process at that point." He said the surgeon had the "Unmitigated gall to say 'we may not do this. We may get in there and see her kidney isn't suitable.'"

"We were both in the same mindset in a way, when we got there at six that morning," Payne said. "We were so anxious to get it done because we had been thinking about it for six months."

"Lock and load," Payne repeated as he prepared to go under. "Let's do this."

Payne said, "The funny part is at the last moment the anesthesiologist looks at me and says 'uh-oh, we've got three Paynes in here today; another recipient named Payne, and his donor.'"

Thankfully the kidneys went to their proposed recipients. As Virginia began to wake from her induced sleep, her first thought was whether the transplant was a success .

"They told us it was a beautiful kidney!" Payne said, as they laughed together.

"I was pretty proud of that," Virginia said, swaying from total humility at the thought of her healthy organ.

Payne's wife Ann, who he adoringly calls his nurse, chimed in, "Before his ankles were so swollen. The kidney started working immediately."

"I went from ridiculously bad to normal in four days," Payne said. In the past three weeks since the transplant there haven't been any rejection symptoms, but the transplant isn't deemed a success until intermittent milestones are passed over the course of the year.

"The entire experience is overwhelming," Payne said. "I'm incredibly grateful to Virginia, and have no suitable way to thank her. She watched us fumble away with ways to try thank her."

Virginia said, "I didn't have any reservations and I would do it again. It's an honor and a privilege to have done this."

Payne said, "I had at best a 50/50 chance of getting a kidney through the system over a five year period [which was a year ago today.] You talk about a shot in the dark.

"It meant that much more when Virginia stepped up and did what she did. It's no exaggeration to say shes given me my life back.

"She's my hero. I said that once already but I'll say it again."

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