Baklava. This mouth-watering Greek treat is sweet and loved by many. But to Heather and Lauren James, baklava has an incredibly important significance – a perfect match. And that perfect match is arguably more sweet than the honey-soaked pastry!
By August 2015, Heather James had been through more than most teenage girls. A year earlier, her existing medical conditions worsened until she required desperate measures. And in November 2014, Heather received a double lung and liver transplant to improve her health.
At this stage in her life, Heather’s poor body was extremely sick and worn out. It was quite wonderful when she received the literal gift of life of these organ transplants. Her wonderful family, including her loving mom Lauren, stayed by her side, relocating from their home in Mechanicsville to Durham, North Carolina, where Heather had her surgery.
But life is complicated, and so was Heather’s medical recovery. After her surgery, her kidneys weren’t working. She went on dialysis a couple of days after the lung/liver transplant with the hopes that her kidneys would start working again. At the nine-month mark, however, Heather and her family were told that their functionality would not come back. They started looking into getting a kidney transplant. “It was a physically and emotionally tiring time,” Heather shared.
By the end of July 2015, Heather and her family started searching for donors. Lauren, Heather’s father Mark, and Heather’s brother Mark, all volunteered to donate a kidney to Heather. Initially though, Lauren had some concerns.
“I wondered if I were too old to donate. Turns out that’s a common misconception,” Lauren shared. To the family’s relief, they learned that there is no age limit to donating an organ. “We found a wonderful doctor we respected and liked, and he gave Lauren the green light to start the testing process.
In August 2015, Lauren’s phone rang. She and Heather were on pins and needles until Lauren excitedly learned she was a perfect match for Heather! Later that same day, the mother-daughter duo decided to go out to lunch and splurge with some celebratory baklava! Opa!
There were still some obstacles to face. Due to medical concerns, it was a long two years before Heather was ready. But in December 2017, Heather received Lauren’s kidney. No more dialysis!
And Lauren and Heather, who are even closer than most mothers and daughters, continue to celebrate life every day. “You learn not to worry about the small things. They don’t matter.” Together they volunteer time at the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, the nonprofit that makes stories like this one possible by matching donors with organ recipients. Along with Mark and Mark, even after experiencing some heartbreaking and scary times, Lauren and Heather truly know how sweet life is.