More than 113,000 men, women and children were on the national transplant list as of July 2019, according to organdonor.gov, and every 10 minutes another person is added to the list.
Kevin Riehle of Frankfort, until recently, was one of many waiting for an organ to save his life.
After years of dealing with renal failure, Riehle began dialysis, the process of removing excess water, solutes, and toxins from the blood in people whose kidneys no longer can perform these functions naturally, in 2017.
Shortly after, he was placed on the transplant list.
Riehle, 47, who is a veteran, said he had several family members and friends wanting to see if they could help, including his wife Melody, who he married in July.
The two started dating in 2015. At that point, Melody said Riehle was already ashen and gray in color.
“His eyes were always weak and tired,” she said. “I believe God heals and … we just began to pray that God would heal his body.”
In January 2018, Melody said she had a great peace that came over her and she went to see if she was compatible to give Riehle an organ. After numerous tests, Melody was found unable to be the donor.
“They protect the donor almost more than they do the recipient. They don’t want the donor to be in the same position in the future,” she said. “I didn’t make it and was completely devastated.”
After Melody, two more people followed to see if they were compatible. One didn’t make it to the first test and the other made it to the last test and opted out of it and didn’t tell them.
Despite the disappointments, Melody said they kept praying.
“I knew God was going to do something,” she said.
Melody took to social media, not for the first time, and shared a short version of what was going on with Riehle. The post was shared more than 150 times.
Thanks to a share by a mutual friend, Vine Grove resident Tammy Brooks-Oprish, 57, saw the post on Feb. 17.
“I could only say it was God’s hand, because from the moment that I saw that post I knew I was Kevin’s donor,” she said. “I had peace. I was never scared, never afraid.”
Brooks-Oprish contacted Melody and completed a tissue match test. After confirmation she was a match, she headed to Nashville, Tennessee, in April for extensive testing. Transplants are performed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the VA there, she said.
Finally, Brooks-Oprish received the call the procedure was a go in June and she met the Riehes in person for the first time. She later attended the couple’s July 6 wedding.
Two weeks later they received the transplant date: Sept. 4.
Brooks-Oprish said the transformation of Riehle after the surgery was “wow.”
Just hours after the surgery Riehle had color, he was sitting up in bed and smiling. While his recovery was quick, Brooks-Oprish said hers was a bit slower, which the doctors had prepared them for.
Brooks-Oprish said her pain only was temporary, but Riehle’s “transforming is permanent.”
Brooks-Oprish is 10 years older than Riehle, Melody said, noting she told Brooks-Oprish “the day you were conceived God had Kevin in mind.”
“That’s how much I believe in the sovereignty of God. He is the great physician. He is the one that can heal supernaturally,” she said.
Melody said it was interesting to watch how powerful organ donation is, whether it is in life or in death.
“It literally gives life,” she said.
Since the surgery, Riehle said he feels much better.
“You go so long feeling bad that feeling bad becomes normal,” he said. “I didn’t realize how bad I was feeling until after the surgery when I felt better. It is amazing the difference.”
Riehle also noted he now has far more free time. For two years he had dialysis for 3½ hours, three days a week. He also now is encouraged to drink water, whereas before he was only allowed two bottles of water a day.
Brooks-Oprish said she thinks it’s important that people realize that being a living donor is not as scary as it appears.
“Are you going to have pain? Yes, you are. Are you going to go through a lot of tests? Yes, you are. But you have to keep your eye on the end result,” she said. “The end result is Kevin, this person, whoever they may be. Their life will change forever and you will be fine.”
Brooks-Oprish said she didn’t do it for the accolades, but to raise awareness and educate. She said the reaction she typically gets for being a living donor is, “You are so brave. … I could never do that.”
“I say, ‘Yes, you can. Look at me. I am living. I am a living donor,’” she said.
To commemorate giving her kidney to Riehle, Brooks-Oprish got a tattoo of a green ribbon – representatiive of living donors, and the date, on the inside of her wrist.
Not everyone can be a living donor, Brooks-Oprish said, but she encouraged people to get organ donor marked on their licenses. According to organdonor.gov, 95 percent of U.S. adults support organ donation, but only 58 percent are actually signed up as donors. The website also states one donor has the potential to save up to eight lives.
Brooks-Oprish said she feels blessed because the Riehles are wonderful people.
“And now I am part of their family forever,” she said.