State News

Kidney donation takes couple's bond beyond marriage

Posted March 5, 2011 8:17 p.m. EST
Updated March 6, 2011 10:30 a.m. EST

— Bettie and James Whitaker married in their teens. They were high school sweethearts.

"She's my partner. We're soul mates," he said.

Almost 40 years later, a health crisis proved the pair is perfectly matched.

Rev. James Whitaker Jr., 57, a diabetic, was diagnosed in 2007 with kidney disease. He changed his lifestyle and began taking medication, but two years later, he needed a transplant.

He asked his nine brothers and sisters and even his three children, but he couldn't find a relative who was a match to be an organ donor.

As he struggled to complete day-to-day tasks and enjoy time with his grandson, Bettie insisted on being checked.

The test found she was that one in a million who was a match for her spouse, but she never had any doubt.

"I always knew in my heart that, if it ever came down to that, that I would be the one to give him a kidney," she said.

The couple underwent eight hours of surgery, and the process was a success.

Hundreds of kidney transplants are performed in North Carolina each year, according to the UNC Kidney Center. Only about one-third are from live donors.

Two month later, they are recovering together, joined by a bond that goes beyond marriage.

She has already returned to work at the Rural Health Group in Scotland Neck, and he will soon return to the pulpit at New Beginning by Faith Church in Rocky Mount, where they share a ministry.

Bettie Whitaker calls it their second chance at life.

"It made me a better man," her husband said.