CUMMING — Not unlike many 26-year-olds, Michael Harper hadn’t given much thought to organ donation.
But when Abby Tudor, the cousin of his wife, Diana, was suddenly stricken with a mysterious problem causing her kidneys to stop working, he soon became a proponent.
Diana Harper described Tudor as a normal, healthy 24-year-old woman whose kidneys suddenly stopped working in January 2013.
“She had complete kidney failure, but they did not know why,” she said. “She had to go on dialysis three days a week, four hours each time, and they told her that if she didn’t find a kidney donor that she would never be able to have children.”
Everyone in Tudor’s immediate biological and extended family was tested to see if they were a possible match, but to no avail. That’s when Michael Harper decided to get tested even though he was not a blood relative and had met Tudor, who lives in Indiana, just once.
“When the doctors said she wouldn’t be able to have children, that really got to me,” he said, noting not long before that Diana had given birth to their daughter, Aubree, now 9 months old.
Added Diana: “He knew what a blessing it was to have a daughter and he didn’t want Abby to miss out on that.”
He went to a local hospital for preliminary testing that determined he was a match.
“They look for one thing out of six to be a match and we had four of those things in common, so it was crazy how much a match we were,” he said.
Diana Harper said finding out her husband was a perfect match “was a little overwhelming at first,” but she was proud he didn’t hesitate to agree to a transplant.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I get to save a life and that’s not something that too many people get to do,’” Michael Harper said.
In early November, the family drove more than 700 miles to Chicago for more in-depth testing and to prepare for the surgery, which was set for Dec. 3.
While Tudor’s insurance covered her side of the surgery, Michael Harper said the hospital covered his costs and an organ donation organization provided money for his wife and daughter to stay in Chicago with him during the month of final testing, surgery and recovery.
“We were incredibly grateful for that since we didn’t want him to have to be up there by himself,” Diana Harper said.
Her husband and Tudor came out of the transplant fine and both had 90 percent kidney function within two weeks. Since then, Tudor has had no problems with organ rejection, which Michael Harper said was his only fear in the donation.
The Harpers’ only hardship came when they got back to Forsyth. Despite having been promised he would still be employed when he returned, Michael Harper faced the loss of his job as a roofer.
“I really want to encourage employers to support their employees if they have the chance to be an organ donor,” he said. “That’s something really amazing that somebody can do for another person, so their employers should support them.”
As for those placed in his position of becoming a donor, his advice was simple.
“Just do it,” he said. “If you have a chance to save someone’s life, just do it.
“They asked me why I wanted to do this and I just said that I have so many blessings in my life that I want to give somebody else that same chance.”