PrintBy David Rice
Higher Education Works Foundation

RALEIGH (Sept. 28, 2016) – Last October 30, Kevin Howell knew something wasn’t right.  He’d had several bouts of nausea.  He’d noticed an annoying metallic taste in his mouth.

“I felt lousy,” he says.  “I just had no energy.”

Howell, who’d spent 10 years as NC State University’s liaison with the General Assembly, told his friend Andy Willis that Friday that he didn’t feel well and suspected his kidneys were malfunctioning.

Willis, the chief of staff at UNC Health Care, immediately put Howell in touch with Dr. Ronald Falk, Chair of the Department of Medicine at UNC, who had seen Howell before.  Howell drove himself directly to the hospital in Chapel Hill for a blood test – and Falk soon had terrible news.

“He said, ‘Kevin, your kidneys have failed – both of them,’” Howell said.  “From that moment, October 30th, my life changed.”

“Because kidney disease is a silent disease, he didn’t know how sick he had gotten,” said Dr. Falk.  Howell’s creatinine level – a measure of kidney function – was “bizarrely high.”

Howell was admitted to the hospital.  Nurses came to visit because they’d never seen a living patient with a creatinine score so high.

Falk advised him to start looking for a kidney donor.  He immediately began having four-hour dialysis sessions – and wondering whether he would see his teen-aged daughters become young women.

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AT A STAFF meeting the following Monday at Holladay Hall – NC State’s main administrative building – the staff was told Kevin Howell was in the hospital, he needed a kidney, and the donor needed to have O-positive blood.  Everyone was shocked, and at least 40 people made inquiries about how to get screened.

“Everybody in Holladay Hall thinks the world of Kevin,” said NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

Woodson’s assistant, Lindsay Recchie, was likewise shocked – Kevin worked out, ate right, and seemed one of the healthiest people she knew.

She went straight to her husband Ralph’s office nearby to discuss it.  Though she had signed the organ-donor box on her driver’s license, she’d never heard of live donors giving organs.

“I didn’t even know my blood type at this point,” she said.

Recchie kept stewing on Kevin’s situation.  Though normally upbeat, when he returned to work, he didn’t look good and seemed down.

Then, on Friday, November 13, terrorists struck in several attacks in Paris.

“That weekend, I just kept thinking about all the evil in the world, and Kevin,” Recchie said, “and I felt like I had to do something to make the world a better place.”

She talked with her husband, then checked her medical records online at UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh – and discovered she was O-positive.

“When I saw that I was O-positive, I just felt a feeling.  And I was like, ‘This is going to work.  This is what I’m supposed to do,’” she said.  “I just knew – I just had a feeling that it was meant to be when I saw the ‘O-positive.’”

She then contacted a transplant coordinator at UNC Chapel Hill.  She answered a set of five questions over the phone.  Then a much longer questionnaire arrived in the mail with extensive inquiries about her medical and family history.

SHE WENT to UNC for a blood test the Monday after Thanksgiving.

“Morning – cross your fingers,” she texted Howell.  “I’m waiting to get my blood drawn for you…. The ladies in the lab are praying for you.”

At 11:30 the next morning, the transplant coordinator called:  She was a perfect match.

When he heard, Kevin texted her back:  “Lindsay, thank you for saving my life.  What you are doing for me brings tears to my eyes.  Know that I am forever grateful.”

At a Christmas parade soon afterward in New Bern, Recchie’s daughter Lilly caught a “Donate Life” keychain that was tossed from a float.

“Have You Said Yes to Organ Donation?” the keychain asked.

Again, it seemed meant to be.  But not before more tests.

In December, Recchie had three full days of testing – and a battery of questions.  Could she take three weeks off from work to recuperate?  Who would take care of her during her recovery?  And a psychological exam:  How would she feel if Kevin died on the operating table, or the transplant failed after she’d given up a vital organ?

At each step, she was asked whether she wanted to continue.  “As it became more clear that she was potentially a perfect match, her commitment never wavered,” said Woodson.

It was easier to sacrifice an organ knowing who would get it, Recchie said.

“Knowing Kevin, yes,” she said.  “Twenty-two people die every day waiting for kidneys, and I couldn’t let Kevin be one of those.

“I said, ‘Well at least I’d know I tried and I did everything I could.’  But if I hadn’t tried, that’s what I couldn’t live with.”

Howell, meanwhile, was still enduring four hours of dialysis three days a week – and they both felt a growing sense of urgency.

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THE MORNING of the surgeries – Feb. 2 – Kevin and Lindsay prayed together with Kevin’s wife, Aleta, his pastor Dr. Dumas Harshaw, Ralph, the surgeon and the nurse.

Lindsay’s surgery lasted 5-1/2 hours.  Kevin’s seemed to take longer than expected, and Lindsay began to worry.

“There was a very real possibility he would die on the table,” she said.

“The power of prayer – it’s so true,” said Kevin.  “I look at life differently now.  And none of us know how long we have left to live.

“What the Good Lord taught me: You don’t ever know who is going to be the person that saves your life.  And here this person is right outside of my office…. You don’t ever know.”

In addition to spiritual moments, there were humorous ones.

Leading up to the surgery, “He would come in in the morning and say, ‘Are you taking care of my kidney?’” Lindsay said.

“After the surgery, he would come into work and I’d say, ‘Are you taking care of my kidney?’”

Recchie – a native of Ohio – also asks Howell occasionally whether he’s started rooting for the Ohio State Buckeyes yet.  (That hasn’t happened.)

But well beyond athletic rivalries, both rave about the quality of care they received.

“The doctors and the care we received at UNC Chapel Hill were phenomenal,” said Howell, now the Senior Vice President of External Affairs for the UNC system.  “Both of us are living proof of that.”

Howell, NC State’s first black student body president as an undergraduate, was dedicated to his university before his transplant.  But that devotion is even deeper now.

“It’s family – everybody here is family.  I witnessed that more during my sickness than ever before,” he said.  “It’s been remarkable.  Some things that happen to you I think are just planted in your heart forever.

“What Lindsay gave me was a gift … a gift I never expected to receive but I’m forever grateful for,” he said.  “Because of the gift, I can look forward.”


ON TUESDAY, Lindsay Recchie received the Governor’s Award for Excellence – the highest award a state employee can receive.

“Now this is sacrifice,” declared Gov. Pat McCrory.  “She donated a kidney to her fellow employee.  Her bravery and selflessness are an inspiration to everyone who works with her.”

Lindsay and Kevin ask others to consider donating organs to people in desperate circumstances.

“We want them to think about it the next time they hear someone needs help,” she said.  Physically, she said, “I feel no different.”

Dr. Falk agrees.

“There are just not enough kidneys,” he said.  “It’s the best gift you can give, by far and away.”

Comments

  1. James Moeser says

    What a beautiful story. Kevin Howell is a wonderful human being. I don’t know Lindsay, but what she did is a wonderful gift. Blessings to you both.

  2. says

    Beautiful story of compassion! I, too, received a kidney in 2015. My kidney came from an altruistic donor, a 3rd grade teacher of gifted students in Thomson, GA, who I did not meet until the day of our surgeries. Coincidentally, I am coordinator of the gifted education program at WCU. My daughter wanted to donate one of her kidneys but we were not a match. However, she donated anyway and a man who had been waiting for a kidney for 5 years received her kidney. My donor and my daughter started a chain that ended up in 16 persons receiving kidneys! There is no greater gift than the gift of life.

  3. Peter Watson says

    What a beautiful and touching story! It’s a ray of sunshine for the soul. Lindsay and Kevin, God bless both of you and best wishes for long and happy lives. Stories like this remind me of how blessed I am to work at NC State. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

  4. Dana Troutman says

    I worked at NC State for nine years in a building adjacent to the one where Kevin worked. While I don’t know him well, I always recognized his charisma, genuine personality, and smile that could light up any room. This is such a heart-warming story! I’m so thankful both Kevin and Lindsay are doing well! It’s beautiful to see a workplace with employees who truly care and make such amazing sacrifices for each other!

  5. Jan Sommer says

    God is good! Also, he has perfect timing! Kevin you have been blessed, He put Lindsey right by your side along with your lovely friends and family. What an awesome story!

  6. Joseph M. Sansom says

    Kevin is my good friend and we would talk when we saw each other
    when I was NC Deputy Treasurer with Treasurer Harlan E. Boyles, and when I would visit First Baptist Church (Wilmington St.). HE had also hosted my visits to NCCU. If I had not received the e-mail, I wouldn’t have known what he has and is going through.
    GOD is Good All The Time,

    Joseph M. Sansom
    Mechanics & Farmers Bank

  7. says

    Kevin is my good friend and we would talk when we saw each other
    when I was NC Deputy Treasurer with Treasurer Harlan E. Boyles, and when I would visit First Baptist Church (Wilmington St.). HE had also hosted my visits to NCCU. If I had not received the e-mail, I wouldn’t have known what he has and is going through.

    GOD is Good All The Time,

    Joseph M. Sansom
    Mechanics & Farmers Bank

  8. Lori Fuller says

    Terrific! The kidney-formerly-known-as-mine has been working beautifully for my recipient, Ruthie, for almost 9 years know. I first met Ruthie when she was my supervisor a UNC School of Social Work internship. We became friends–and much to my surprise, she enthusiastically volunteered her husband to be my sperm donor. Yes, you read that right! What an amazing opportunity to give an gift to her–two years after my son, Brock, was born!! I, too, remember praying while the blood was being drawn, somehow knowing that I just HAD to be the match for Ruthie’s kidney. I was! So, so grateful.

  9. Mike Giancola says

    Lindsay and Kevin and both what’s right in the world. Two wonderful people and a great story that reminds us all of our shared humanity.

  10. Leroy Wilkins says

    Lindsey
    you are a good hearted person and may you continue to be blessed for the wonderful gift you gave to Kelvin, I was really touched by the story.

  11. Martha Glass says

    I worked with Kevin during Gov. Hunt’s 3rd & 4th terms. He is a talented, smart, and most of all just plain good person. So happy for him, and a huge “thank you” to Ruthie. God bless you both, and am praying for continued good health for both of you!

  12. Angkana P Bode says

    Lindsay truly is our NC State heroine! She just told me that:
    “…my mission is to get the message of donation out to everyone!” Thank you for inspiring all Wolfpackers and make us so proud of NC State University.

    NC State Staff Senate will recognize Lindsay at 11am at our 10-noon General Meeting – Talley Student Union, Room 4140, on Wednesday 10/5/16. Our meeting is open for public. Please join us!

    Angkana Bode
    2016-2017 Staff Senate Chair

  13. Gladys Walker says

    Thank you, Lindsay for giving my good friend, Kevin, the gift of life. I haven’t met you, but know anI love you both.
    Gladys

  14. Joe Wescott says

    What an incredible story! You both are an example to us all of faith, friendship, and family. Congratulations Lindsay on your award! And to both of you on lives well lived!

  15. Kim Hutchins says

    What a blessing!! Lindsay is a precious gift from God! Thank you for saving my dear friend’s life! As I sit here today at UNC Cancer Hospital, I’m reminded of the blessings that Kevin & Aleta have bestowed on my family during my illness and well over the last decade! To God be the Glory; Great things He has done! So grateful and thankful for both Lindsay and Kevin!

  16. Rhonda Shelton says

    Wonderful story of friendship that goes above and beyond one’s self to help others. I pray for both of you and your families. God is truly the Great Physician! I’m so thankful for his gift, Jesus Christ.

  17. Carl McIntosh says

    Kevin has been a friend since the day we met 15 years ago and found out that our daughters were good buddies in preschool. Kevin and I stood in the parking lot for over an hour talking. I knew it then and I still know it to be true now. Kevin is a special person. Reading this story says much about Lindsay as well. She must also be special for being so giving. My family thanks you Lindsay for extending Kevin’s life. Like Kevin you will always be in our prayers and we hope you have a healthy quality of life. Filled with the love.

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