Lydia Morris and Mitzi Elkins share an infectious lifetime of memories.
The two complete each others sentences. And on numerous occasions one has provided the other a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear.
But just more than 1½ years ago, their friendship was elevated to a level that few friendships can reach.
Morris, a Leighton resident, suffering from polycystic kidney disease, needed a kidney transplant to save her life. Without hesitation, Elkins said, “have one of mine.”
Their unique friendship is being celebrated again today as they enjoy another Thanksgiving, each thankful to share a special bond.
Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic condition that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow and multiply on the inside and outside of the kidneys.
The treatment is dialysis, but the treatment only prolongs kidney function. The only real cure is a transplant.
That was something Morris never really expected to receive, but on March 4, 2011, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, Elkins, of Spring Valley, gave the gift.
"I don't ever feel I will adequately thank her for what she did," Morris said. "But how do you thank someone for saving your life. She gave me my life back."
Polycystic kidney disease affects one in every 500 people worldwide, according to the Polycystic Kidney Disease foundation. It's more prevalent than Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and sickle cell anemia combined, according to the foundation.
Morris knows the toll the disease can take on a body and a family. She was 21 in 1982 when her mother died at age 52 from the disease. Her grandmother died in 1949 at 50, before Morris was born. Three uncles died within 18 months of each other from the disease. And in May 2011, just two months after Morris' kidney transplant, her older sister, Latishue Taylor, died after seven years on dialysis.
Taylor never found a compatible kidney donor.
With all the loss cemented in Elkins' mind, she had to do everything she could to help her friend. She said she didn't want Morris' daughter, Lynsee Dennison, to go through life without her mother. She didn't want Morris to miss possibly being a grandmother one day. And she didn't want to lose the friend who helped her through the ups and downs of life.
"Her sass was gone," Elkins said. "I knew how sick she was because she wasn't giving me her usual sarcasm and attitude.
"I couldn't sit back and say ‘I wish there was something I could do' because there was something I could do."
And while Elkins' mind was made up from the day she learned her friend needed a kidney, the pair still had hurdles to jump before the transplant could happen.
Morris warned her friend it wasn't easy to donate a kidney. There was an uncountable number of tests that had to be performed. Any one of those tests could have disqualified Elkins as a donor. Being a donor is not as easy as just wanting to help, doctors told Elkins.
Morris said she even tried to discourage Elkins.
"The surgery is harder on the donor than the recipient," Morris said.
Even today, Elkins stops her in the middle of an explanation of why she didn't want her friend to be the donor.
"I made up my mind I was going to do it, and from that point forward I just believed it was going to work out," she said.
It did, just in time.
The day of surgery, Morris' kidney function was down to 8 percent, and both kidneys were triple their normal size.
"I was numb," she recalls. "I didn't want to believe I was as sick as I was."
About an hour into post-surgery recovery, doctors told Elkins the kidney she gave was already functioning correctly. Sometimes that can take hours or days to happen.
Elkins was released from the hospital one day after surgery, while Morris was still in the surgical intensive care unit. Morris was struggling with nausea, weakness and pain as her friend walked out of the hospital.
"I'm not typically the type that cries," Elkins said. "But leaving that hospital knowing she was still in bad shape was the hardest thing I've done. I squalled the whole way home."
But a few weeks later — the pair was separated by doctor's orders for six weeks after the surgery — Elkins got a text message to show how well Morris was recovering.
"Her daughter sent me a picture of Lydia at a restaurant and right in front of her was a big glass of Coke," Elkins said. "I knew she was doing really well if she was drinking a Coke."
Because of the disease, Morris was told to drink only water because of the damage other beverages can do to kidneys.
"I don't drink one very often," Morris said. "But to finally have the ability to do that was a big deal."
She said she is thankful for small things like Cokes. And she is more thankful for the big things.
"Before the surgery, both of us had allowed jobs and other worries become more important than family and friends," Morris said. "But now, that has changed. Nothing is more important than your family."
The only thing that worries Morris now is whether her daughter has polycystic kidney disease. She is screened regularly for it, and at 25, she shows no signs of the disease, her mother said.
"If that holds true, the disease will be gone from our family," she said. "It doesn't skip a generation so hopefully we have killed it in our family. That is what I'll be most thankful for."
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.