McLaren Flint nurses discover one can save the others life


There are more than 100,000 people on the donor list right now waiting for a kidney transplant. On average, someone is added every 14 minutes.

One local man is able to take his name off of that list – all thanks to his co-worker.

Two nurses from the ICU at McLaren Flint discovered through casual conversation that one could save the others life.

“This is my twin – my kidney twin,” said Jeff Benaway, who needs a kidney.

It all started from a casual conversation after Benaway said he was tired from receiving dialysis for his failing kidneys.

“Somebody, I can’t even remember who it was, to my left said, ‘Well, why don’t you just get a kidney?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s not that easy, why don’t you give me your kidney’,” Benaway said.

Although that person wasn’t a match, another co-worker was.

“Tonia, to my right says, ‘Well I’m A Negative. I’ll give you a kidney. I will totally give you a kidney.’ And you know, that just threw me back,” Benaway said, speaking about his co-worker in the ICU Tonia Cole.

“He didn’t believe me,” Cole said. “So I went up to him later and said, ‘No really, I’m serious, I will give you a kidney.'”

Benaway had been diagnosed with stage 3 kidney failure in 2001, meaning his kidneys were functioning at 30 to 59 percent. While remaining there for years, he then quickly went through stage 4 and reached stage 5 last July – when his kidney function dropped below 15 percent.

He then started dialysis.

“I opted for the PD – peritoneal dialysis, where they fill your belly with a sugar fluid, and it extracts the poisons, urea, out of your blood, and then you empty it out in a different procedure,” Benaway said.

He went onto the donor list last October – joining a list of almost 3,000 Michigan residents.

“People on average wait about five years before they have a person that is a good match for them for a kidney transplant,” said Missy Smith, of the Universal Kidney Foundation in Grand Blanc.

Benaway is now removed from that list thanks to Cole.

“The initial screen was really good, that’s when they said it was like a grand slam, they were really happy,” Cole said. “So, they set me up for a whole day long of interviewing and what not down there because they want to make sure that mentally you know what you’re getting in for. I talked to a nephrologist and transplant surgeon, did a bunch more blood work, and everything came back as a real good match.”

The decision was easy for her.

“If it were someone in my family, I would want someone to do that for them,” Cole said. “Jeff is a really wonderful man, he’s a great nurse, just got married a year ago, I think everyone should be able to enjoy their grand kids, so he should get some of those. He should really be able to enjoy that.”

After the surgery, Cole’s other kidney will become larger to make up for the loss.

“I mean, in the short term, it’s going to be kind of inconvenient and painful, and I’ll be tired, and have some time off work,” Cole said. “But in a year, I don’t think I’ll miss it. But he gets to have a life, so kind of an inconvenience for me, but for him, it’s a life changer.”

Benaway can’t describe how truly thankful he and his family are.

“Tonia, what bigger gift can you give somebody,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. I love you from the bottom of my heart.”

Because of a lowered immune system, Benaway won’t be able to return to work as an ICU nurse, but he hopes to continue working for McLaren in a clerical aspect after the surgery – which is scheduled for September.




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