A sister's love was the key factor in Becky Brickhouse's decision to donate a kidney to her older sibling in July.
Harold Cummings (right) and his fellow firefighters at North Columbia have had several fund-raisers for his daughter Joyce Ann Lewis (center), of Thomson, to help with the expense of a kidney transplant. Cummings' other daughter and Lewis' sister, Becky Brickhouse, of Winfield, gave her a kidney in June.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"If I had to do it again, I'd do it again," the 42-year-old Winfield resident and Columbia County school bus driver said. "It helped my sister and it helped me keep my sister here with me."
Brickhouses's sister, Joyce Lewis, 43, of Thomson, has always had high blood pressure, which eventually led to kidney failure a few years ago. Lewis, who left her job at Shaw Industries in 2001, spent the past four years on dialysis, visiting a Thomson dialysis center three times a week.
"I don't even miss dialysis," Lewis said smiling. "... I'm doing real good."
Lewis' former sallow complexion has been replaced by rosy cheeks and healthy color surrounding an ever-present smile. And Lewis now is full of energy, she said.
"I had a bad cough. I coughed all the time," Lewis said, adding that she feels much better and is much more active since the July 13 transplant surgery. "That stopped right after I got the kidney."
Brickhouse and Lewis, born just a year apart, have always been close as sisters. Raised almost as twins, the pair wore matching outfits in different colors. Lewis carries a faded and folded photo of the two as children in her wallet.
When Lewis got sick, Brickhouse said she knew she had to do anything she could to help.
"I told her that if I had three (kidneys), I'd give her both of them and I'd just keep one," Brickhouse said. "... Seeing her that first time when we thought we'd lost her, I said, 'What can I do?'"
The transplant surgery was originally scheduled for June, but a problem with Brickhouse's blood pressure postponed the surgery for what they thought at the time would be indefinitely.
"I think that was the worst day I could have had, that I couldn't give her my kidney," Brickhouse said.
Lewis said she was nervous because she was on the organ donor waiting list and had already been offered two kidneys.
"They called me two times for somebody else to give me a kidney, but I told them I was going to wait because (Brickhouse) was getting tested," Lewis said.
Brickhouse's blood pressure problem was only a temporary delay and she was able to give her sister the gift of life, a kidney, during a successful surgery.
"That was a blessed day," Brickhouse said.
The surgery went smoothly and only days afterward, Lewis was caught sneaking from her hospital room to the McDonald's downstairs.
Both women spent nearly a week in the hospital before eight weeks of at-home recovery.
"A lot of people don't believe me (that I had a kidney transplant) if they didn't know me then," Lewis said.
For Brickhouse, the pain of the surgery was minor compared to watching the students on her school bus head back for the first day of school without her driving them.
"... If we had done it in June, I could've gone back when school started back,'' Brickhouse said. "... But I said, 'My kids will have to wait. It's going to hurt, but my sister is more important than being back on that bus.'"
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