Donna Wilson of Culloden has never met Amari “A.J.” Jefferson, but she says that Monroe County is family so she’s giving one of her kidneys next Friday, Aug. 16 so that the 16-year-old can get a new one.
“I’ve always been one for giving to kids,” said Wilson. “I would’ve done it for any child. If any child says they need something, I’m going to be one of the first to try to help.”
Wilson stepped forwards last year when she saw a Facebook post from A.J.’s aunt Tia Walker saying that A.J. was in kidney failure and needed a new one. She was one of at least 16 people who got tested at Emory Hospital to see if they were a match. Emory called Wilson a few weeks later and asked her if she was still interested because she was the closest match. An Emory official spent an hour telling Wilson all the risks involved in donating her kidney. Wilson was undeterred; she was ready to give. She began monthly trips to Emory last year for more testing.
While she was the closest match, she wasn’t a perfect match. Doctors said if she gave her kidney to A.J., he would probably need another one in 2-3 years. But there was another option. They could put Wilson and A.J. in a pair-a-donor database that matches similar donors. It would allow Wilson to give her kidney to a better match, and then in turn the database could find a better match who could give A.J. a new kidney.
Wilson called A.J.’s family a few weeks ago and urged them to put A.J. with her on the pair-a-donor database.
Within two weeks of doing that, they had a match. Emory called Wilson while she was on vacation last month and scheduled the kidney transplants. It was just in time. A.J.’s kidneys were so diseased that doctors removed them on June 28, and he has had to have nine hours of daily dialysis at home since then. Yet, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound A.J. has remained active and is still attending school. His grandmother Rosemary Walker of Forsyth said her grandson has somehow stayed calm throughout the ordeal.
“Nothing phases him,” said Walker. “He tells me ‘grandma you worry too much’. I tell him that’s only because I love him.”
And thanks to Wilson, A.J. is scheduled to get his new kidney on Thursday, Aug. 15 at Egleston Children’s Hospital, while Wilson is scheduled to donate hers on Friday, Aug. 16.
Wilson said she didn’t know A.J. but realized she did know his family and Walker, the former rec department director.
“Rosemary called me last night and said ‘I love you! I love you! I love you!’” said Wilson.
Walker said they’ve known each other since Wilson coached a cheer team at the rec.
“I love her,” said Walker. “She’s the sweetest person in the world.”
Walker said she’s thankful for Wilson and everyone who got tested to see if they were a match. “The community has been very supportive,” said Walker.
She said after both have recovered from surgery she wants to do “something big” for both of them.
Wilson had her pre-op appointment last Thursday, Aug. 1. Wilson, 49, said doctors kept asking her if she was positive she wanted to do it. Her family has concerns.
“Jeff (husband) is not thrilled about it,” said Wilson. “He doesn’t want something to happen to me. But I told him, ‘trust me, you’ve got to have all kinds of help. You’re going to need me so I’m not going anywhere. You’ll have to walt a while before you can go find you a sugar mama.’”
Wilson said as a mother of four she hopes someone would do the same for one of her children if they needed it.
She said she is simply “paying it forward”, saying she has faith that giving has many rewards down the road.
One of those rewards, said Wilson, would be seeing A.J. able to return to the court playing his favorite sport, basketball, for Mary Persons. A junior at MP, A.J. will have a 3-month recovery but after that she hopes to see him on the court since her daughter plays hoops for the Lady Dogs too.
“That’s gonna be exciting,” said Wilson. “To see we’ve changed another person’s life. I hope he gets to play now. That would be great. That’s what I want. I’ll be out there cheering for him.”
Friends and family have marveled at Wilson’s willingness to give, but she jokes that giving her kidney is not her most generous act. Her husband Jeff Wilson, a Monroe County deputy, was shot and his fellow deputy Michael Norris was killed responding to suicidal man in 2014.
“The most generous thing I’ve done,” said Wilson, “is to let my husband, son and daughter still work in law enforcement.”
After she gives her kidney, Wilson said she’ll be able to come home 2-3 days after surgery and will have limited travel and lifting for 6-8 weeks. Doctors told her to lay off work for awhile but Wilson, the warranty manager for Camping World in Byron, said she’s probably going to buck her doctors on that one.
While people are wowed by Wilson giving her own kidney to a stranger, Wilson says there are no strangers in Monroe County.
“In this day and time, with all the bad things happening and everything negative out there, I don’t want that stuff here,” said Wilson. “Here in Monroe County, we are family. And if we can make our little hometown positive, then the rest of the world can stay out of our business.”