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March 9, 2013

Chickasha girl saves stranger's life with kidney donation

CHICKASHA — Two years ago Mark Lindsay's life was fairly routine. He'd get up around 5:30 in the morning, head off to work, develop flu like symptoms around 4:30 p.m. and head to bed around 7:30 p.m.

During his 10 hour sleep, Mark had fluid pumped into his abdomen via dialysis. For more than four years, this was Mark Lindsay's life.

Two years ago Christy Branch and her daughter Mary Wilkinson were fighting alongside Mark Wilkinson, Branch's son and Wilkinson's brother, as he battled cancer. Sadly, it was a battle he lost in May of 2011.

Despite Branch and her daughter being lifelong Chickasha residents, and Lindsay growing up in Yukon, working every summer in Minco and achieving an undergrad from OU, these three people never met.

That is, they never met until earlier this year when a series of amazing events left Lindsay with the ownership of one of Mary Wilkinson's kidneys.

Lindsay suffered from ideopathicchronicglomerularnephritis, a disease which essentially laid waste to his kidneys. To this day, his doctors don't know the cause of the illness. All they know is Lindsay needed a transplant or this sickness would eventually claim his life.

Lindsay said a friend of his told him about the website, matchingdonors.com, and although he was initially skeptical, Lindsay eventually joined the site.

"I originally thought it was a scam," he said. "I called and talked to them and it turns out it's kind of like a dating site. They just match donors."

Wilkinson was already on the site when Lindsay joined.

After two rounds of chemotherapy, her brother's liver was severely damaged and he needed a transplant.

"I wasn't compatible with him, so I thought maybe we could find someone on the site who was and I could trade something they needed for a liver transplant," she said.

Sadly, that day never came and Mark Wilkinson lost his battle to cancer.

Lindsay reached out to Wilkinson via telephone earlier this year hoping she would be interested in flying to California for testing.

"I called her and asked 'What would make a person wake up in the morning and make them want to give an organ to a complete stranger,'" Lindsay said. "She told me the story of her brother and now I get emotional every time I tell the story."

From that point on, Lindsay, who is 55, and Wilkinson, who is 23, developed a friendship that he compared to one between a father and a daughter. Their lives were destined to be entwined forever, but neither knew that their respective journeys mirrored each other so closely.

"He and my son had the same first name, which was the first coincidence," Branch said. "That almost made us cry, but after that our jaws just continued to drop as things came up."

Some of those things included the story of Lindsay's cousin, who was compatible with Lindsay and slated to give him a kidney, until doctors discovered he had lymphoma. Although the compatibility was a match, Lindsay's cousin never had the opportunity to give his cousin the gift of life, and sadly, cancer won its war with him too.

This was the perfect inverse of the trials that Wilkinson faced when trying to give her brother a kidney.

It seemed the two families were the respective sides of the medical equation.

"We joke that Mark and his (Mark Lindsay's) cousin met in heaven and set Mary and Mark on a collision course," Branch said.

Branch and Wilkinson went on to learn that Lindsay was raised in Yukon and worked every summer at a gas station in Minco that his uncle owned. From that point, it just seemed like fate, Branch said.

Wilkinson flew to California to commence testing to make sure she was completely compatible with Lindsay. She came home reassured that she was doing the right thing, telling her mother that her brother would have turned into Lindsay had he grown up.

"When we went out there for the surgery and I met him, I had to agree with her. My son would have grown up to be just like him," Branch said.

Although all the tests came back positive, and Wilkinson turned out to be a perfect match, trouble still reared its head.

"After six weeks the doctor's told us she was declined because she was only 23 and she didn't have health insurance," Lindsay said. "They said it was in her best interest to have health insurance in case something happened."

Lindsay reported the news to Wilkinson who was crestfallen.

"After that, I was on the top of the list to get a kidney from a cadaver, so I told her "How about you just come out and take care of me after the surgery,'" Lindsay said.

But that wasn't enough for Wilkinson.

"She called me three weeks later and said she had gotten insurance, had already contacted the doctors and that they were ready to do the surgery," Lindsay said.

On Feb. 20, the surgery took place, and in what seemed to run perfectly congruent with the providence of their story, Wilkinson was out of the hospital in three days and Lindsay was out in four.

Lindsay said it typically takes a transplanted kidney about a month to work at the level a kidney should, but Wilkinson's had the determination of its previous owner.

"Before today my life revolved around dialysis," Lindsay said. "I just walked two miles to the mall to go see a movie."

The flu like symptoms, the pain and everything else associated with Lindsay's damaged kidneys were gone in three days, and for Wilkinson, the closure of helping someone the way she couldn't help her brother, will last a lifetime.

"She felt really bad that she wasn't compatible with Mark (Wilkinson)," Branch said. "She felt like she let him down, and was depressed a lot. I think this kind of brought her out of it."

In the aftermath of the surgery and devastating losses experienced by Lindsay, Wilkinson and Branch there is hope, as two families from the same part of the world separated by thousands of miles have been forever joined.

Wilkinson said she and Lindsay talk every day, and whether it's him coming home to Oklahoma, or her family heading to California, they will forever be a part of each other's lives.

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