FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Richard Terry can’t take his eyes off a photo on his phone.
It shows him in his white hospital gown after receiving a new kidney three months ago. To the right sits his donor, Mitch Davis. Both had their hands raised with thumbs up.
“This is what love looks like,” Terry said, his blue eyes watering behind his wire-rimmed glasses.
Davis is the preacher at Terry’s church, Franklin Church of Christ.
This week, Terry reached the three-month mark with his new kidney and what he considered a new chance at life. His health hasn’t been this good in nearly three years.
“It’s very emotional because I will carry a part of Mitch with me the rest of my life,” Terry said. “To have someone you’ve only known six or seven years who is a part of your church do this for you is the most selfless thing.”
Two years ago, Terry, now 68, was diagnosed with stage four chronic kidney disease.
“Those last two years are foggy,” Terry said. “Your cognitive function is affected, and you sleep a lot. I slept off and on, because it’s hard to stay awake. There’s only five stages of kidney disease if that tells you how bad off I was.”
Every month, Terry would visit his doctor and ask the same question: Was it time for dialysis? In February 2017, his doctor told him he would need that treatment.
But his doctor asked a question of his own.
“He asked me if I wanted to wait on the transplant list, and I thought, ‘Why not?'”
Finding a donor
A nurse for 40 years, Terry knew he could face a long wait.
It can take five to 10 years to receive a new organ, according to data from the Living Kidney Donor Network.
To speed the process, Terry posted on Facebook asking friends and family to be tested to see if they could be a donor match. Of the three people who matched, Davis was the right fit.
“I was very quick on my decision,” Davis, 49, said. “I tested, and then the rest unfolded. In my mind, I am thinking, ‘I am healthy,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s make it work.'”
Funneling through the process
Davis has preached at Franklin Church of Christ for seven years. Originally from Hawaii, Davis came to Williamson County after preaching in Georgia, Missouri and Alabama. After transitioning from teaching special education, preaching became his full-time job.
Loving members of his congregation like they were family was nothing new to him.
“If it had been a complete stranger, I would have said yes,” Davis said. “That’s the way my mind works.”
In order to give his kidney to Terry, Davis had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and extensive blood work. By August, Davis knew he was the right match.
“It’s hard to say if it’s a ‘God thing,'” Davis said. “I want to say yes. From the standpoint that I am a believer, I see God’s hand in so many things. But God’s not saying, ‘Hey Mitch, I brought you guys together.’ I am not sure of the answer. Feeling it is one thing. I do see how God’s hand is involved through the process.”
Knowing the odds
As the surgery at St. Thomas West in Nashville approached on Oct. 19, Terry believed the operation was his last chance at a healthy life.
“I have always accepted the fact if it had to be dialysis, that’s the way,” Terry said. “I knew this would be the most serious surgery I had to go through. I wasn’t scared. As a nurse, I recognized the risks having been in the medical field. I wasn’t blissful. I acknowledged this was what it was and said a prayer.”
Twenty families from Franklin Church of Christ waited and prayed in the waiting room for Davis and Terry during the surgery.
“The morning after the surgery, I woke up, I know what it means now when someone says they feel like a new man,” Terry said. “I can’t tell you the difference I felt.”
Terry was home four days after the surgery. For Davis, it took him extra time to recover, being out of work for two months. During that time, the Franklin Church of Christ body pulled together, taking care of everything until Davis was ready to return. They took care of putting together the church bulletin, preaching on Sundays and maintaining the church grounds.
Both now have returned to their regular schedules. Terry has become an ambassador for Donate Life, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of donated organs.
“Every year 4,000 people are added to the waiting list to receive kidney,” Terry said. “It’s a simple thing to do. It’s one of the few things you can give while you’re still alive. Every time we go to church, I see the man who loved me enough to put his life in jeopardy to help me.”
To be an organ donor
In order to donate an organ in Tennessee, you can register at donatelifetn.org. Tennessee residents can also register while getting their driver’s license. Donors can select which organs and tissues they wish to donate.