Giving the Gift of Life

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Owen County woman gives her father a second chance with donating a kidney

By John Whitlock

Christmas is often called the season of giving.

But for one Owen County woman, the season of giving was in early October.

Leeann Foree said the health problems of her father, James Hill, 61, began with a doctor’s diagnosis that he needed a quadruple bypass.

“We knew something was wrong even before the bypass surgery,” Foree said. “But the five arteries were 95-percent blocked so they went ahead with the surgery.”

As expected, Hill recovered slowly from bypass surgery but by September 2007, everyone knew something else was wrong.

In October 2007, doctors said Hill was suffering from kidney failure and he would need a transplant.

“He’s a relatively young man,” Foree said. “We all knew something was wrong. He loves to do a lot of things, especially fishing, and even fishing was making him tired.”

Foree watched her father struggle with the problem. She watched him suffer through chemotherapy.

“It was a tough time,” Hill said.

But by February, Foree said a decision was forming in her mind. She would offer her father one of her kidneys.

She pondered.

She considered.

She talked to her mother.

“My mother said it was my decision,” Foree said. “She said it was a wonderful thing to do but she left the decision totally up to me.

She talked to her husband.

“He was completely supportive,” Foree said. “He said it was my decision but he supported whatever decision I would make.”

And finally, she prayed.

“I think I already knew what my decision would be but I prayed and prayed and prayed,” Foree said. “I’m a pretty religious person and I think the prayer helped me make that final decision.”

So in February, Foree decided to allow doctors to cut into her body, remove one of her two kidneys, replace one of her father’s failing kidneys with one from her own body, sew her up and hope the procedure works for both of them.

“I don’t think I had a second thought,” Foree said. “I have a strong faith in the Lord and I never once thought about backing out.”

Her father was stunned by his daughter’s generosity.

“I was pretty surprised because I didn’t think anyone would do something like that for me,” Hill said. “She had already called and checked on it before she even told me.”

Overall, it was a pretty easy decision for Foree.

“It’s hard to watch someone you love and care about in pain,” Foree said. “If I couldn’t do it for him, who could I do it for?”

For Hill, his daughter provided the gift of life.

“I could barely believe it,” Hill said.

With her decision, the testing began.

“They tested me from head to toe – ultrasounds, blood work ... all that,” Foree said. “The very last test they performed happened one week before the surgery and that was the tissue test.”

Although they could have moved ahead with transplant even if the tissue didn’t exactly match, Foree said she was relieved with the results.

“We were a perfect match,” Foree said. “That was a good feeling – knowing that it was a perfect match.”

As doctors from the University of Kentucky Medical Center continued to test and get ready for the operation, it was decided the transplant would happen Oct.1.

“It was kinda scary but everyone was happy it was going to happen,” Foree said.

Her kids - James Stone, 13, and Alexis Copeland, 9 – went to school that morning.

“I think they were kinda proud that I was doing this,” Foree said. “My daughter bragged to her friends but my son, he’s a teenager, so he didn’t say much about it. I think he was concerned for me more than he wanted to say.”

The surgery took four hours and Foree, who had five previous surgeries, said she had never felt such intense pain.

“It took place on Wednesday and until Saturday, I couldn’t keep anything down,” Foree said. “I had never gone through anything like that.”

But soon, the pain started to subside and her father began to grow stronger.

Today, Hill is feeling “pretty good” and looking forward returning to the water to fish.

“It was pretty great of her,” Hill said. “She’s always been pretty special to me and this just made her even more special.”

Life is starting to return to normal for Hill.

“I’m doing a lot better - just not going to dialysis, that’s great,” Hill said. “I’m so happy that I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Foree has no regrets.

“I’m glad I did it,” Foree said. “He’s going good and he’s back to doing the things he loves.”

Although she now lives with only one kidney, Foree said her life hasn’t changed much.

“I don’t feel any different,” Foree said. “A lot of people ask me if I feel weaker or anything but I don’t. I feel fine.”

Offering part of your own body to help a loved one shouldn’t spark fear in other facing a similar situation, Foree said.

“It’s not that difficult,” Foree said. “If you truly love that person, you won’t have any problem doing it.”