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Love thy neighbor: Thomson man thankful for neighbor's kidney

For nearly three years, Toni Erkens watched her neighbor go back and forth for kidney dialysis treatments and attempt to work in his yard.

At the time, just getting out of his home and going for treatments was about all that Donnie Reese could do. The Thomson man discovered quickly that he simply didn't have the energy to get out and work in his yards like he had enjoyed doing for years.

"It really bothered me to see him out in his yard trying to do work that he simply couldn't do because of his medical condition," said Mrs. Erkens, who lives in Thomson, drives a bus for the McDuffie County School System and works as a cook at Little G's.

She thought at the time, "if only there was something I could do to help."

"Toni walked up to me one Sunday at Faith Baptist Church and asked me didn't I need a kidney transplant," recalled Mr. Reese, who is retired from Thomson Company after 35 years. "I remember telling her, ‘Yes, I do need one.'"

Mr. Reese and his wife, Lois, who is now retired from Thomson Company and Advance Auto Distribution Center in Thomson, had invited Mrs. Erkens and her family to their church. They were living next door to each other at the time.

"She was like an angel sent from Heaven," said Mr. Reese of Mrs. Erkens.

"She was definitely an answer to our prayers," said Mrs. Reese.

At the time, Mr. Reese had been undergoing dialysis treatments for eight months.

He was just about ready to give up all hope.

"I couldn't stand the dialysis treatments any longer," explained Mr. Reese. "Those treatments just drew all the energy I had out of me. I was just about ready to give up."

About that same time, Mrs. Erkens offered her help and agreed to travel to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital in Augusta to be tested to see whether or not she would be a match as a kidney transplant donor.

"It took me a while to decide that I would be tested to see if we were a match, because I had heard so many things about this type of procedure," said Mrs. Erkens. "I finally heard the straight talk about the procedure from doctors and then I made up my mind that I was going to try to help."

About 10 other people, including Mr. Reese' wife, had been tested as possible donor candidates, but weren't a match.

Mrs. Erkens was different. In fact, she was a perfect match. Doctors at first thought she was a relative of Mr. Reese. Instead, she was merely a neighbor.

"To see him out in his yard trying to work and couldn't, helped me to make up my mind that I would give him one of my kidneys," said Mrs. Erkens.

That was five years ago, June 12, 2002. Neither of them have encountered any medical problems as a result of the kidney transplant.

Mr. Reese, who will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life, does from time to time get skin cancers that have to be removed. Doctors tell him it's the result of the medication that he takes.

"As far as anything serious, though, I haven't had any problems, whatsoever," said Mr. Reese.

And with every Thanksgiving that comes and goes, Mr. Reese counts his blessings.

"I thank God everyday for what He did in sending Toni my way," he added. "I can't say enough about what Toni did for me. She's been wonderful to me. She's a special person who never gave it a second thought about helping me."

Mr. Reese said he's blessed and knows it.

"I'll think about it a little more on Thanksgiving Day, because it's a time when you're suppose to count your blessings just a little more," said Mr. Reese.

As for Mrs. Erkens, "I just think of myself as an ordinary person - not a hero."

"She may not count herself as a hero, but Donnie and I sure do," said Mrs. Reese. "She's a good-hearted person. She didn't have to do what she did."

Web posted on Thursday, November 22, 2007

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