JOINT BASE CHARLESTON — -- A Reserve Airman with the 315th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston did something to start her New 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 on the Joint Base suffering from stage 5 kidney disease.
Kimbrell said she was watching an episode of a television show where 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 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," she said.
Several months later she called the Medical University of South Carolina Transplant Center, but there was no answered. Frustrated, Kimbrell said she walked into the office of her boss, Lt. Col. Bobby Degregorio, 315th LRS commander, and sat down.
"What’s on your mind waterbug?" Degregorio asked her. To which Kimbrell 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 his friend Harvill about the potentially good news and the process was set in motion.
"Periodically, Stephanie would e-mail 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.
Kimbrell 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 e-mailed."
Anxious to know when the procedure would take place, Kimbrell called MUSC and the date was scheduled for Jan. 22. Kimbrell and Harvill decided to have a family get together for dinner the night before surgery.
At dinner 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 him talk and cry about his ordeal, Kimbrell was deeply moved. "Then it suddenly hit me... oh man, I am actually saving this man’s life!"
"I often thought about Stephanie and how special a person she was, willing to donate 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?"