In times of great struggle, we all need a village rallying behind us; and recently, one dad from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida found his in an unexpected place: His daughters’ school.
In April of 2016, when 56-year-old Neil Emmott learned that his kidney function was dangerously low, he was put on a donor wait list for a new one. Without a viable match in the family, the dad of two was forced to remain patient and hope for a miracle. But it wasn’t easy — for Neil, his wife Lisa, or his two daughters, Cameron, now 13, and Mackenzie, now 9.
During the agonizing and long wait, Lisa confided in a friend at work about her husband’s ailing health. Though what she couldn’t have known at the time was that her quiet conversation with her friend was about to spark a kidney donation chain that would ultimately save the lives of eight people — including her husband’s.
The co-worker Lisa confided in was Allison Malouf, a 1st-grade teacher at Ft. Lauderdale’s Bethany Christian School, where both women worked and where Malouf just so happened to teach the Emmott’s daughter, Mackenzie. Malouf knew the urgency of the situation all too well, since her own husband had actually donated his kidney eight years earlier.
Familiar with the process, and fully understanding the Emmott family’s heartache, Malouf barely hesitated before making an incredible offer: She wanted to donate her own kidney to save Neil’s life.
“My children had complete peace seeing that their dad donated his kidney eight years prior,” Malouf said in a statement shared with Babble. “They see that both their parents are healthy.”
However, during the screening process at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, Malouf learned that she wasn’t a viable match, since her blood type is A+ and Neil’s is O+. He needed either an exact match or type O-, the universal blood type.
This story of generosity could have ended there — but it didn’t.
Unbeknownst to Malouf, another teacher at Ft. Lauderdale’s Bethany Christian School was getting screened, too: Britani Atkinson, who had spoken with Malouf about the Emmott family’s quest for a kidney and decided to get screened herself — just in case.
“As Lisa shared with me Neil’s diagnosis and the situation they were facing with Neil needing a kidney and the donors who had been denied, I felt a deep desire to help their family,” Atkinson shared in a statement to Babble.
But even so, Atkinson kept her screening a secret. After all, she didn’t want to get any hopes up if she wasn’t a viable match.
“I knew how desperate I would be if I found myself in their situation and the solution seemed so easy,” said Atkinson. “I had two kidneys and I only needed one. If I could give one to Neil to keep their family whole, why would I not?”
As it would turn out, Atkinson was not a match for Neil, either. But that didn’t stop these kind-hearted women from pressing on.
By 2017, Neil was on a list of more than 95,000 people nation-wide who were waiting to be given a donor organ. For many of the patients on the wait list — which can be between three and five years long — they’re forced to rely on dialysis in the meantime. But that summer, Malouf and Atkinson registered their names on the National Kidney Registry on behalf of their friend, Neil. And by doing so, they were able to start what is known as a “kidney chain.”
How it works is simple: When even numbers of incompatible donors and patients sign up, the National Kidney Registry begins to search for other pairs of incompatible donors and patients — and look for the matches needed.
Incredibly, by adding their names to the registry, Malouf and Atkinson were both able to help save eight lives.
The first came in the fall of 2017, when Atkinson was matched up with a patient in Boston. At the same time, Neil was given a kidney from a donor in California. The chain started by Atkinson’s donation would continue on, and save four lives in total.
Then, in November 2017, Malouf was matched with a patient and her own donation sparked another chain that helped save another four lives.
As you might imagine, recovering from either donating your kidney or receiving one can be a long and rather painful process. But Malouf shares that the school community at Bethany Christian School was “amazing.”
“Teachers and parents prepared dinners [and] brought lunch and snacks for my boys daily,” she shares, “so I didn’t have to worry about that as I was recovering.”
As for Neil, any pain he might have felt after his surgery was soothed by the incredible gratitude he had for the donors. Speaking with TODAY, the father of two shared that the experience left him “humbled and grateful” beyond measure.
“The most noticeable change for me as a parent is that I now have energy for my young kids,” he added.
But the experience may have been just as rewarding for both Malouf and Atkinson.
“[This is] right up there with marrying my husband and the birth of my children,” says Malouf. “It truly is better to give than to receive.”
It certainly is.More On