On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

Facebook Helped Me Find a Kidney Donor

18 December 2015

Posted in

Who says we don’t pay attention to the Facebook postings of our former classmates?

Sure, many of their posts may seem pointless: the latest exploits of their kids, what they had for lunch, or "Hey, look there’s a cat wearing a beret."

But Claudia Smith’s life changed due to a Facebook post from an old classmate. That same post will save the life of her friend Belinda Ball.

The 55-year-old Ball has long known she’d probably need a kidney transplant at some point in her life. Her kidneys are connected, forming a horseshoe shape. When the Tulsa native was three years old she almost died, and she received a catheter in kindergarten.

Belinda and Claudia were best friends when they attended Eisenhower Elementary School in Tulsa in the 1960s.

“When we were in third grade I told her that someday I was probably going to need a kidney transplant,” Belinda recalls. “Claudia told me she would always keep me in her prayers.” Ironically, on Dec. 21 at INTEGRIS Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Claudia will answer the prayer she made many years ago as a young girl.

“We were pretty young and I felt a lot of concern for her,” Claudia remembers. “After she told me [that she’d need a transplant] I was walking down the hallway at the elementary school that day and I prayed for her. I told God that I would help her if I could.”

It was the night of Belinda Ball’s high school class reunion. She and her husband were ready to leave the house but she couldn’t pull herself away from the phone. As the moment of departure neared, Belinda’s husband appeared in front of her. She waved him away. Moments later he was back and she mouthed something to him. Several minutes passed and then more time passed. Her husband fixed his tie as many times as possible in the mirror. Still, Belinda was not budging, not getting off the phone call. Six hours later she hung up the phone and told her husband the great news.

She had a donor, and it was her old childhood pal Claudia. It had been 36 years since the two had spoken to each other.

A few days earlier Claudia had sent a Facebook private message as a way of reintroducing herself to her long lost friend: “I saw your post about no donor matches. I have gone thru the initial testing. I have more testing, but I’m a match.”

Months earlier, Belinda had initially posted to Facebook looking for a donor. It was an act of desperation.

“Originally I was told by previous physicians that because of my small size I’d need to have a pediatric donor,” Belinda says. “Then after the doctors at INTEGRIS met with me and I explained that, they asked ‘who told you that?’ and quickly I realized the world had opened to me. It was a life changer.”

Belinda’s husband was initially a “perfect match,” but further testing revealed that his kidney wouldn’t be compatible. It was at that point that she turned to social media to get the message out.

A few of Belinda’s high school friends stepped forward and were tested, but none were a match. Weeks passed before she received that private message from Claudia.

What did Belinda think when her Facebook post resulted in finding a match?

“There’s hope out there that people do care about other people,” she says through tears. “Asking for help brings out the best in people.”

Since that first message Belinda and Claudia have rekindled their friendship. Now they communicate every day, usually through text messages or more of those long phone conversations. As they’ve progressed through the pre-surgery process, they’ve found that they need each other.

“We prop each other up,” Belinda says. “Every time I speak to Claudia she always frames it as ‘we’ not ‘me’."

Smith, who lives with her family outside Austin, Texas, didn’t hesitate to help her friend, and she hasn’t allowed any obstacle to stand in her way. Even as INTEGRIS doctors have helped her through the donor process, which has included some lifestyle changes, she hasn’t shied away from assisting her old friend.

“When I’ve wondered if this was going to be a reality, Claudia has always told me, ‘This is going to happen,’” Belinda says.

Ironically, though it’s Claudia who is donating her kidney to Belinda to help save her life, she feels like she’s the one receiving a gift at Christmas time.

“I’ve had to pay attention to my blood pressure, my diet,” Claudia says. “I feel like this is saving my life, too. It’s like God placed this in my life.”

As they prepare for the surgery, the two old friends are sharing the same outlook.

“We’re both strangely calm, but also not,” says Belinda.

It’s not lost on either woman how important faith has played in their meeting again under these amazing circumstances. It all started with Claudia’s prayer when she was eight years old.

“Even though we’re different faiths (Claudia is Christian while Belinda is Jewish), it’s still God,” Belinda says.

The procedure will require Belinda to undergo more recovery than Claudia, but both will be in the hospital for about three days. They hope to be released on Christmas Eve. Their rooms will be right across the hall. Until they feel strong enough to walk that distance, they can always communicate via Facebook.

“I have a range of emotions,” Claudia explains, “but mostly I am so grateful that God heard my prayer and finally answered it -- in His time.”

“I got my best friend back,” Belinda says.