JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. – An Air Force Reserve airman with the 315th Airlift Wing here did something to start the year that she never imagined she'd be in a position to do: she saved someone's life.
By an interesting series of events, Master Sgt. Stephanie Kimbrell, logistics plans craftsman with the 315th Logistics Readiness Squadron, donated one of her kidneys to David Harvill, a public health specialist with the 628th Medical Group here, who was suffering from stage 5 kidney disease.
Kimbrell said she was watching a television show in which one of the characters experienced a kidney injury. The character had to have one of her kidneys removed and was placed on dialysis.
"The fact that she could not get a friend or family member to donate broke my heart," Kimbrell said. "I had no idea how difficult it was for people with kidney disease.
"I got up from my show with tears running down my face,” she continued, “and through a stuffy nose told God that if he needed my kidney, I would give it up in his name -- that I wasn't afraid of donating it to someone that I knew could use it."
Several months later, she called the Medical University of South Carolina Transplant Center, but there was no answer. Frustrated, Kimbrell said, she walked into the office of her boss, Air
Force Lt. Col. Bobby Degregorio, 315th LRS commander, and told him how she felt she needed to donate her kidney to someone.
"Are you serious?" Degregorio said while raising his eyebrows. "I literally just found out today that one of my friends who works over in the Medical Group is dying and needs a kidney.”
Without hesitation, Kimbrell replied, "Let's do it."
Degregorio told Harvill about the potentially good news, and the process was set in motion.
"Periodically, Stephanie would email me, updating where she was in the process," Harvill said. Although doctors told Kimbrell the chances were one in a million for a perfect match, she remained confident. She began the pre-donation testing and matching process to determine if she was healthy enough and if she was a match.
Harvill said that he got a message to call Degregorio, who told him excitedly, "'Super Dave, you're not going to believe this! Stephanie is a match. You are getting your kidney."
"I was so overcome by emotions I was speechless and broke down," Harvill said. "All I wanted to do was call Stephanie; however, I had no phone number, as we had always emailed."
The date was scheduled for Jan. 22. Kimbrell and Harvill decided to have a family get-together for dinner the night before surgery. That night, they talked about how this all came about.
"I shared my story with them about how I felt God wanted me to donate to someone, and when I knew Mr. Harvill was the one, I was at complete peace about how this was going to go," Kimbrell said.
"We all cried, and Mr. Harvill shared how difficult his life had been being on dialysis and knowing eventually he would succumb to this disease if he didn't find a kidney," she said.
When she heard Havrill talk and cry about his ordeal, Kimbrell said, she was deeply moved. "Then it suddenly hit me. … ‘Oh, man, I am actually saving this man's life!" she added.
"I often thought about Stephanie and how special a person she was -- willing to donate a kidney to a complete stranger," Harvill said. "In talking with the living donor transplant coordinator, this doesn't occur as often as one might think. Most people receive a cadaver kidney or know their donor."
The donation procedure was a complete success, and during the recovery process at the hospital, Kimbrell and Harvill visited each other daily. To date, Harvill said, both he and Kimbrell are doing well, and their families contact each other regularly.
"I don't really think what I did was heroic. I kind of feel like I was just being obedient to God and what he wanted," Kimbrell said. "I see how I have changed Mr. Harvill's life, but what people don't see is that he really changed my life for the better, too. He is a wonderful person who I now have the privilege of calling family."
"To this day, neither I nor my family can do enough to repay Stephanie for her unselfish act of giving me, a complete stranger, a new kidney and the 'gift of life,'" Harvill said. "How many of you could do what she has done? Could you actually give a complete stranger a kidney?"