Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Meet the woman who's going to make Dawn Evans healthy again

Dawn and Erika

Erika Evans laughs when asked the question.

Did you ever think you'd be donating a kidney to someone?

"It wasn't exactly on my bucket list," she says.

Evans' recipient is another Evans -- that would be James Madison's Dawn Evans, her first cousin. Dawn, suffering from focal segmental glomerular sclerosis since December 2009, will receive the new kidney in Nashville in the next two to three weeks. Evans learned her kidney condition had deteriorated when she returned home to Clarksville, Tenn., over Christmas from Arras, France, where she had been playing basketball.

Erika, 28, of Landover, Md., was initially tested as were several family members in late 2012. The process works this way. Each person has six basic typing antigens or markers. A marker helps determine which donor is the best match with ideal matches being 6 of 6. However, all six antigens don't need to match for a successful transplant; even one antigen may make for a successful transplant, especially if the donor is alive. However in most cases, the final test, ensuring the donor and recipient  do not have a positive cross match, meaning antibodies would reject the organ, must also be compatible for a transplant to take place.

Erika and Dawn matched on four of six markers --  no positive cross match.

The cousins didn't know each other well.

"She grew up in Tennessee and I'm here in Maryland," Erika said. "We went to visit maybe four or five times that I can maybe remember."

Erika and family did attend a handful of Dawn's JMU games -- when the Dukes were at Georgetown and in the CAA Tournament championship in nearby Upper Marlboro, Md.

But Edward Evans, Erika's dad, and Rodney Evans, Dawn's dad, are brothers who talk nearly every day. When Edward mentioned Dawn's illness to his daughter, her first response was, "How do I get tested?"

Erika endured a battery of tests at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "I had blood work, x-rays, you see a psychiatrist -- just tests checking your overall health," Erika said.

A week after she got back home, Erika learned the results. She was happy, but realized she had a decision to make considering her own family. Erika is mom to two small children, Khyree, 3,  and Kennedi, 6.

When Erika called Dawn to say she would go through with the donation, she admits, "It was weird, at first. There was just this silence. But that changed quickly. Now we talk just about every day."

Since those initial tests, Erika has had to drop weight to improve her BMI: "I have finally started enjoying the gym," she says, noting having a purpose beyond losing the weight for yourself is a powerful motivator.

Erika completed the final test -- a 24-hour blood pressure monitor -- on Sunday night. She returned the monitor on Monday to the hospital and is awaiting the exact transplant date. "They said about two weeks from when they get the monitor," she said.

Erika has never had major surgery. She's been told the actual procedure will last three to four hours, and the recovery time will be four weeks. Other than monitoring her alcohol intake, no problem for Erika, she will not be placed on any restrictions afterward. "Just stay healthy," she said.

The magnitude of her gift hasn't hit her yet.

"I don't think about it as big as it really is," Erika says. "I just figure I can help somebody. I know it's big. I don't think it's hit me yet. Maybe when it's time to put on surgery clothes and go under the anesthesia, it will hit me then."

A friend has started a fundraiser for Erika, an office manager at a private dental practice in Maryland. She is hoping to raise $4,500, money that will help with expenses for the six weeks she is off without pay.

Dawn is also promising something special, as she plans to return to her team in France when she's healthy again.

"When she goes back to play, she's going to try and get my family and me to come see her first game," Erika says. "Hopefully we can make that happen."

We have a feeling Dawn will make it so.

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