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LOS ANGELES (Oct. 4, 2001) -- Patricia Abdullah, Sherman Oaks (CA), and Mike Jones, Los Angeles, have more in common than her kidney. Even though their backgrounds couldn't be more diverse -- he's an African American Christian male and she's a White American Muslim woman who is, by birth, a descendent of the Hawaiian Ali'i (royal family) -- they are equally committed to the concept that "we're all one people. "There's no black or white, no Christian, Muslim or Jew, and no Arab or non-Arab," says Abdullah, who donated one of her kidneys to Jones last week. "Differences just don't mean anything; they're not valid. There are no races; there are just human beings!" she says emphatically.
Abdullah met Jones at a seminar last February. The two were part of a class of more than 90 students enrolled in the four-day seminar. On the first day of class, the instructor announced that in order to successfully complete the course, all students needed to attend each of the four-day sessions. However, Jones, who had end-stage kidney failure and had been on kidney dialysis for five years, explained to the instructor and the class that he would need to come a little late to one of the sessions as he had a dialysis appointment.
During the supper break that evening, Abdullah and other students in the class asked Jones about his disease and what could be done about it. Jones explained that what he really needed was a kidney transplant, but although he had been on the transplant list for several years, a suitable donor had not been found. His family members had already been tested, but none were compatible.
When the class went back into session, Abdullah shocked Jones by suggesting to the rest of the class that they make it their project to find him a kidney. The class responded enthusiastically and went into action immediately, setting up an e-mail list, contacting the kidney foundation and in general, educating themselves on the concept of living donor organ transplants.
When the four-day seminar concluded, the students moved on to an advanced 16-week course, which ended on August 2, 2001. As part of this course, the students learned how to successfully make what are sometimes considered "unreasonable requests" -- requests that we all need to make of others at some point in our lives, but which we really don't want to make. During one of the in-class exercises, Abdullah startled Jones by saying to him, "Mike, I'm O-positive."
"Oh, okay," a puzzled Jones responded. He, too was O-positive but didn't see what Abdullah was getting at, so she repeated herself a little more forcefully.
"I'm O-positive, Mike." When he still looked confused, she decided to be more direct, and commanded, "Make an unreasonable request of me!"
Suddenly Jones realized what she was getting at, but he was too overwhelmed to say the words. Abdullah prompted him again. "Go ahead, Mike. Make an unreasonable request of me."
Stammering, he finally managed to get the words out. "Will you give me one of your kidneys?"
Grinning broadly, Abdullah replied, "Yes!"
Amid cheers from the class, Jones explained that Abdullah would need to be tested and gave her the name of the transplant center. She contacted the center the following day and went for testing. Four weeks later, she was discouraged because she had heard nothing back. But then the phone rang and she was called back for yet another test. "Why?" she asked. "Is there a problem?"
To the contrary, the transplant coordinator said that she was a perfect match -- so good in fact that they wanted to do another check just to be certain.
The class erupted in cheers when Abdullah and Jones shared their news. "It's going to happen!" said an ecstatic Jones. "There was a standing ovation and everyone was laughing and crying," he remembers.
However, insurance problems presented themselves, and Jones turned to another student in the class, Terrence Akin, Vice Present for Women's & Children's Services and Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Akin was not only able to assist in smoothing out the insurance issues, but also explained to Abdullah that a highly specialized German surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, Gerhard Fuchs, M.D., would be able to remove her kidney laparoscopically through a tiny port rather than through the usual large, open procedure. Thus, instead of requiring weeks or even months of recovery time, she would be able to go back to work as a writer and editor in about a week. This was important for two reasons: 1) Abdullah was concerned about the financial impact of being off work for an extended period; and 2) she had just gotten a new job at a publishing company that provides English training materials for the government of South Korea. Her new boss had agreed to hold the job for her, but she wanted to report to work as soon as possible.
The surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 11, but due to conflicting schedules of the two transplant teams, it was moved back to Sept. 25. Dr. Fuchs successfully removed Abdullah's left kidney that morning, and another Cedars-Sinai transplant surgeon, J. Louis Cohen, M.D., who is Jewish, transplanted the organ into Jones, where it began functioning immediately. Abdullah returned home two days later and Jones went home three days after that.
"This has been a profound, life-changing opportunity, and it has changed me in ways I never imagined," says Abdullah, who is a member of the Glendale Chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "I never realized I'd be able to have this view of life."
Abdullah and Jones have decided that since they now have a kidney in common that they are family in a very real sense of the word. So this year, they're doing a joint Christmas card. "Both of our families are going to get together for a group photo," says Abdullah. "And that's going to be our Christmas card."
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