On the front page of the November 4, 2015 edition, Kelli Peacock Dunn wrote an inspirational story of a young woman’s struggle with a kidney disease and her desparate search for a matching, and willing, donor. Blountstown native Tonya (Stewart) Lawrence, and her husband Brett, received the news in October that a perfect match had been found and it will come from another local woman, Blountstown Elementary School Principal Pam Bozeman.
Tonya, a nurse for Dr. Skipper at TMH Blountstown Family Practice, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 2005, a disease where cysts overtake your kidneys. The disease had been manageable until May of last year as she prepared for a sinus procedure. Doctors told her she couldn’t have the surgery because her creatinine levels were too high, which is related to kidney function, and theywere hesitant to put her to sleep.
While at the Mayo Clinic Tonya received the dreaded news she was facing dialysis and a transplant. In late October last year, she was placed on a transplant list.
For Tonya and Brett and their four children who live in Two Egg, the agonizing process of finding the perfect match began. Tonya’s brother, Russell, came close, but a condition where he was producing too much sodium and was producing kidney stones eliminated him.
So, the search continued. Who would be willing to give Tonya the gift of life? Who would be this family’s hero? In the meantime, the community, as it usually does, held fundraisers for Tonya’s mounting costs for medication, travel, and hospital visits.
For Tonya, dialysis started in March 2016. Everyday, six hours a night. “I knew I was going to die. I was scared to death. It could be four years on the transplant list with over 200,000 people waiting just like me,” Tonya said.
Pam Bozeman had started thinking about becoming a donor nearly a year ago. “I’ve always been blessed with good health and I just knew this was something I wanted to do. My parents have been the most generous people and my whole life I saw them doing things for other people,” Pam said
Tonya Stewart Lawrence and Pam Bozeman
Last April, while in a doctor’s office, Pam picked up a magazine and was attracted to an article about a man donating a kidney. “Right then, I knew God was leading me to go get tested to become a donor,” Pam said. After discussing her decision with her husband, Chuck, children and parents, she contacted the Mayo Clinic to schedule testing.
Pam said she had read an article in the paper or on Facebook about Tonya’s case and needing an O+ donor. She contacted Tonya about her decision to be tested as a donor.
Pam traveled to the Mayo Clinic and was there November 16-17 for the testing which included lots of blood work and even a battery of psychological questions. “It was so smooth and fast,” Pam added.
“I finally had my little breakdown on December 17th when I received a letter from Mayo that a match for my transplant had been found,” Tonya said with tears flowing down her cheeks. “Pam is my angel.” Tonya’s daughter Gracie, also crying, needed some hugs from her mom and Pam as she listened to her mother.
“I had told Tonya I know it’s a match,” Pam said as she also wiped away some tears.
The two women will be admitted to the Mayo Clinic on January 12th. The transplant will be performed with both ladies in the same surgical unit together on January 13th and last about six hours. Pam will be in the hospital 4-5 days and Tonya will remain at Mayo for 4-6 weeks for observation and testing.
A tentative discharge date for Tonya is February 13th.
“Fourteen months from going on dialysis to the transplant. Pam wasn’t a stranger, but we really didn’t know each other. She was always the principal to me. Never, ever could I repay her for what she’s doing for me. She’s given me my life,” Tonya said with visible emotion.
Pam was quick to assure Tonya she owed her nothing. “Just pay it forward,” Pam told Tonya.
“My faith has been renewed. What am I doing to deserve this? I hope I will be able to help somebody overcome something they’re facing in their life,” Tonya stated. "God has sent me my Christmas Angel."