A special Christmas gift
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 24, 2013 1:46 PM
Harold and Sharon Warren laugh together in the front yard of their home Saturday. Sharon donated a kidney to her husband in June.
Harold Warren says he has something in mind to give his wife for Christmas.
But it can't possibly top what he received from her earlier this year -- a kidney.
Harold, a Basic Skills specialist at Wayne Community College, and Sharon Warren, a medical assistant at Outpatient Heart Institute in Greenville, have been married eight years.
"This is just a relationship that we know God put together," she said. "He pastors two churches -- Liberty Grove Missionary Baptist Church in LaGrange and Hooks Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Pikeville. My kids were young and ended up joining the church. Even though he wasn't their father, he still had a hand in raising them."
Calvin Sutton is now a football coach at North Lenoir High School, and Asha Sutton Fuzzell is a teacher assistant at LaGrange Elementary School.
The Warrens had not been dating long when they learned of Harold's health issue.
"I found that I guess I was born with one kidney undeveloped," he said, a discovery made during an X-ray. "I developed a disease, nephritis. I don't know how I contracted it."
Over the course of time it worsened, with doctors recommending in 2012 that he get a graft. That procedure went well, he said, but a year later the kidneys failed.
Several options were mentioned, from dialysis to a kidney transplant. In the latter case, there are hurdles to getting a match, with the best possibilities coming from a deceased donor or a family member.
There's one glitch, though. While Harold is surrounded by relatives who live near the family in the Central Heights community, he already knew none of them would be a match.
"I'm actually adopted and from Tennessee," he said.
"When we went to (Greenville) to talk about a kidney transplant, I just looked at him and said, 'Baby, I can't be a donor for you,'" said Mrs. Warren, whose career had included working in a transplant clinic. She knew about the unlikelihood that a spouse would be a candidate.
"He's the head of 30 churches," she said, referencing Warren's role as moderator of Bear Creek Association. "So there's a lot of people that we could have been approaching to ask. He didn't necessarily want to do that, so we were praying.
"I told him I really wanted to be a donor."
As Warren became eligible to be placed on a transplant list, his wife also went through the process, from counseling with physicians to being tested to see if her blood could be a match.
She had her own setbacks, from blood pressure issues to being advised to lose some weight.
"It was Lent," she said. "I had already given up sweets, so I could do that for this."
Things progressed well and she wound up being the only one tested as a donor.
Warren had some apprehensions, he admits now. On one hand, he said he didn't expect his wife could possibly be a match, while on the other hand he was concerned about any health risks to her if she were.
"I probably wasn't as educated (about organ donation) as she was," he said. "And then as time went on, I got more accustomed to the idea and I started praying that she would be a match."
Then came the day they got their answer.
"The doctors said it was almost like we were brother and sister, we were that close a match," Warren said.
"I looked at him and said, 'Ain't God good?'" his wife said, a broad smile crossing her face at the recollection.
The relief prompted a humorous reaction, she says now.
"I called my mom and said, 'Mom, did you have Harold and give him away?'" she said. "It was so funny."
The June 25 surgery was a success, and the couple have since returned to work, Warren most recently, on Dec. 2.
"He didn't want to tell anybody but I was like, 'Baby, you need to tell people,'" Mrs. Warren said. "This is a great testimony of what God can do."
Her husband said he always had faith it would work out.
"God has done so much for me before," he said. "Even before this, I had no doubt I was going to be all right. I was more interested in how He was going to do it."
Likewise, Mrs. Warren said there was no hesitation that she would volunteer.
"I love my husband," she said. "Our vows said 'in sickness and in health.'"
And while there have been jokes and light-hearted references that "you owe her" for such a gesture, the couple shrugs them off and appreciated the shared blessing of the experience.
"This is actually the second Christmas," Mrs. Warren said of the upcoming holiday. "The first Christmas was June 25, when we had the surgery."
"I told her I have four birthdays," her husband said. "The day I was born, Nov. 2, the day I was born again in Christ, in August (at age 7), then June 25 when I had the kidney transplant, and I can celebrate her birthday because I have a part of her."