Waitress' 'Regular' Is Perfect Match For Her Kidney Transplant

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Wait on people for a living, and you learn two things about life: You can't survive without the regulars.

And the best tips never come in cash.

Barbara Rector knew that even before this week - the best week of her life.

She's 57 and has waited tables, on and off, since she was old enough to work.

Two years ago, she took a job at Manchu Wok at the Ohio Turn pike plaza in Amherst.

That's where six simple words changed her life.

"I'll have a double general's chicken," Don Bedwell said, when he walked up to Barbara at the counter. Barbara made her usual small talk as she dished up Don's to-go plate, filled a cup with diet Coke and sent him on his way.

He was back like clockwork, at noon every Friday. And over the months, the two got to know a bit about each other.

Don lived in Indiana, in a farm town called Columbia City. But he had an engineering job in Cleveland.

So every week he made the four-hour commute.

He packed his car on Friday mornings, then headed home to his wife and ate his lunch along the way.

Things changed, though, right before Thanksgiving.

"How you doing?" Don asked Barbara that Friday.

She was honest.

"Not so good." Her diabetes was getting worse. She was going to have to quit. Start dialysis. The doctors said she needed a kidney transplant.

"Well, I'll give you one," Don said, writing his name, address and phone number on the back of a napkin, not wanting to watch the tears run down Barbara's face.

"When things get ready, if this is really what you want to do, give me a call," he told her.

And then he hit the road.

After that, someone else dished up Don's lunch every Friday.

In January, though, Barbara's daughter-in-law, Missy, called Don and gave him all the donor information.

Barbara and her family didn't think much more about it.

How could a stranger be a match when none of Barbara's sons were? Besides, a few weeks later, Missy found out she was a match. She could give her mother-in-law her kidney.

Barbara grabbed hold of Missy and hugged her tight.

"I can't believe it," Barbara cried while Missy wiped away her own tears.

In May, Missy headed to the Cleveland Clinic for her last appointment. Doctors were going to check her over one more time, then give her the transplant date.

But there was a problem. Tests showed blood in Missy's urine. That could be a sign of trouble down the road, the doctors said. They couldn't risk giving Barbra a kidney that might be flawed.

Missy and her husband, Al, Barbara's oldest son, went next door to Barbara's half of the duplex to give her the news.

"I knew it was all too good to be true," Barbara told them. "I'll probably never find a match now." Al couldn't take it.

The next day, he called Audrey Caplin, the Cleveland Clinic nurse who was helping Missy donate her kidney.

Al told Audrey he'd donate one of his to someone else in a program called paired donation. That way if the person he gave his kidney to had a family member who matched his mom, everyone would win.

Audrey didn't call back for about 10 days.

Al wondered what was wrong. She always called right back.

Then, in early June, Missy answered the phone. She ran next door and handed it to Barbara, who listened for a minute, then dropped it and wept so hard she could not speak.

On the line was Audrey, who broke the news: Don, the regular at Manchu Wok, had gone through with the testing. He had decided to give a kidney to anyone who needed it.

Turns out he was a match for Barbara.

On Monday morning, surgeons cut into Don's abdomen, removed a perfect left kidney and sewed it into her.

On Wednesday, both drifted in and out of sleep. They wore their pain as awkwardly as their hospital gowns. But nothing stopped either one from talking.

"He's an angel," Barbara said, sitting in a chair, drainage tubes still in her neck.

"There's not enough good words to say about those people," Al said later, referring to Don and his wife, Shari. "I've tried to think of words to say, but I don't know . . ." "He gave her life," Missy said.

Four floors below them, Don woke from a nap and joked about how he needed to lose a few pounds anyway.

"It's almost been fun," he said, a grimace giving him away.

"You can only imagine what happens on the other side of the telephone when you say 'I will.' You can only imagine that perfect joy." This from a man, his wife tells you, who fainted during the blood test for his marriage license.

Don and Shari credit God with working all this out. He's in the details, they say.

Why else would Don have gotten a job so far away, a six-month job that stretched into years -long enough for him to meet Barbara and know her when she became so sick? Why else would his kidney match hers? Don went home to Indiana Thursday morning. He'll be back at work on Monday.

And next Friday, at noon, he'll be ordering the usual at Manchu Wok.

Barbara should go home on Saturday. Her new kidney is working perfectly, her family says.

And she plans to go back to work at Manchu Wok, where she'll be living proof that you can't survive without the regulars.

And the best tips never come in cash.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: [email protected], 216-999-4987 � 2005 The Plain Dealer � 2005 cleveland.com All Rights Reserved.

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