It’s no secret that divorce can cause a lot of fallout, no matter what the cause for the split. While it’s rare to find families that have gone their separate ways but still remain cordial, it’s rarer still to find families where all parties concerned make an effort to spend time together.
And it’s almost unheard of for a wife to offer her husband’s ex-wife an organ, but that’s exactly what happened between Debby Neal-Strickland and Mylaen Merthe.
Mylaen, 59, and Jim Merthe got a divorce nearly 20 years ago. Mylaen has struggled for years with kidney disease, and last November, her kidneys were at a mere 8 percent functioning capacity.
Despite her kidney disease and the ever-present threat of COVID-19, Mylaen was determined to meet her first grandbaby. But to thrive, she’d need a donor. Mylaen’s brother was ready and willing, but sadly he was not a match.
Enter Debby Neal-Strickland, 56, of Ocala, Florida, who had a generous heart, a kidney to spare and experience with watching loved ones suffer through health problems, in desperate need of a donor. Debby’s brother passed away from cystic fibrosis. He’d needed a double lung transplant, something she couldn’t give and wasn’t a match for anyway.
She and Jim are also raising five teens and a 6-year-old with autism. Some of them are Debby’s grandchildren, some are foster children. Suffice it to say, they’ve got their hands full.
Debby and Jim went on their first date ten years ago, and have intended to get married several times but have repeatedly changed the date because their children have had their own engagement announcements.
They’d finally settled on Nov. 22. Reflecting on Mylaen’s condition, Debby knew how important it was for her to be present for her daughter and grandson, and Debby also found out that she was a kidney donor match.
“I just couldn’t not try to change that,” Debby told Fox News about the possibility that Mylaen wouldn’t live to see her daughter give birth. “God told me, ‘You’re a match and you need to do this.'”
“When somebody needs an organ, if they don’t get it, they’re probably not going to make it. I know it’s something that you do quickly.”
As the possibility of a kidney donation arose, the two began to grow close. Debby went through testing to see if donating would be a reality, and Mylaen tried not to think about the alternative. She said that Debby knew seeing her grandson was “all I ever wanted,” and the offer was “from her heart.”
It didn’t stop them, and Debby went through with both the wedding and the surgery.
“It was the most amazing day of my life, until two days later,” Debby said. “That was also the most amazing day of my life.”
After the surgery, Mylaen immediately asked to see Debby. Because of COVID precautions, it took some time, but it was her first request.
“‘I need to see her,'” Mylaen recalled saying. “That was the first thing out of my mouth.”
“We had our masks on too, so we’re crying, and of course our stomachs were hurting because of the incisions. We kinda laughed and cried.”
Debby voiced her amazement at how quickly Mylaen began to improve with the new-to-her, healthy kidney, saying that “she looked so alive and revitalized.”
Mylaen lived to become a grandmother, and then in March was made a grandmother all over again when another grandbaby was born. The two grandmothers share more now, pray for each other and have named themselves the “kidney sisters.”
The future holds lots of plans, including a combined family trip, all thanks to Debby’s unusual and sacrificial generosity.
“This is what the world is about,” Mylaen said.
“Family. We need to stick together. She saved my life.”
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