A time for thanks, for giving life: Charlotte woman receives life-saving kidney donation from stranger

Part 1: The stories of donors and recipients in the organ transplant journey

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - They looked the part of old friends as they strolled through Freedom Park in Charlotte. Just two working moms catching up on life and kids and such, but the truth is Celeste Brintley and Shelly Crawford had just met for the first time.

What brought them together was born of the unexpected 10 years earlier.

“I woke up one night and I couldn’t breathe,” said Brintley.

A trip to the doctor brought a battery of tests, questions and a discovery.

“They said, yeah, you’re in, in stage renal failure,” said Brintley. “And to hear that at my age is heartbreaking.”

Brintley was just 35 and used to being on the move, but on the move is not the way it goes when your kidneys don’t work and you need dialysis to stay alive.

“My life stopped, it stopped completely,” said Brintley.

As it turns out, about six months ago, Crawford’s stopped and turned to the television.

“A story was that was running just caught my attention,” said Crawford.

Crawford is WBTV’s Director of Programming, Research and Community Affairs.

“It was about a woman who needed a kidney and her mom was doing a major marketing campaign to find her daughter a kidney from a living kidney donor,” said Crawford.

It moved her to do something hardly anyone does. She made a call and began the process of becoming a living organ donor and what’s more she willing to give one of her kidney’s to a stranger.

“People have asked, like, ‘why, why are you doing that?’ I mean, I can only say it felt like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Crawford.

Dr. Vincent Casingal does a lot of the transplant surgeries at Atrium Health in Charlotte.

“It’s not, not very often that somebody would be willing to donate a kidney to a stranger,” said Casingal.

Nationally only about 3% percent of living kidney donors give to a stranger. Not nearly enough when you consider there are more than 500 people, in the Charlotte area alone, in need.

“So, it’s an unfortunate reality that a lot of people will never get a kidney,” said Casingal.

Brintley was one of the 500 in our area hoping for good news. The kind that wouldn’t be worst for someone else.

“A week after I got listed and my husband and I actually started praying and we were like, we don’t want anyone to have to die to give me life,” said Brintley.

No one had to because doctor’s figured one of Shelly’s would work just fine. The surgeries took place in August. A couple months later the two met. The first time was through a Zoom call. The next day they were able to stand face-to-face, masked up in the time of Covid.

It was a time to celebrated the selflessness of one and the freedom for another.

“To actually meet her is just really rewarding,” said Crawford. “It’s a very life affirming decision. It’s just all complete now.”

“She didn’t know who the kidney was going to and I was the recipient and I’m so grateful,” said Brintley.

Asked what she’s most thankful for, she said “life, a better life, a good life.”

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