Advance with MUSC Health

Being Part of a Miracle: A Four-Person Kidney Transplant Chain Ends with Unexpected Blessings

Advance With MUSC Health
February 22, 2022
Williamson, Ratteree, Price, and Snow with their families.

Giving and sharing is woven into Barb Snow’s DNA, as she puts it. For her, sharing something she has that someone else needs comes second nature, which is why she joined the MUSC Health Living Donor Program in October, donating a kidney and starting a four-person transplant chain that saved two lives.

“I knew that an amazing body only needs one kidney,” she says. “I don’t have a family member or a friend who needs one … I just knew that I wanted to help someone and their caring family members who were probably praying a kidney would fall from the sky for them.”

Snow came forward as a Good Samaritan, or an altruistic non-directed donor. In doing so, she set off a transplant chain, which happens when incompatible family or friends of recipients pay it forward and donate to a stranger in exchange for securing a kidney for their loved one. This chain in particular comprises Snow’s recipient, Scott Price, and his cousin Susan Ratteree, who didn’t match with Scott but matched with the second recipient, James Williamson. James was the lucky lottery winner who got off the waitlist with a living donor kidney. This is their story.

Snow is 56 years old and days away from retirement with Joint Base Charleston. She’s brimming with excitement as she imagines the opportunities life still has in store for her. That’s what she can only hope to give to someone else, the chance to live out their dreams as she is doing.

She remembers the day she put her name forward as a donor. It was a Saturday. Hitting the ‘Send’ button was exhilarating, as were the forthcoming phone calls from MUSC letting her know she could formally begin the process and, finally, that she’d been matched.

She was prepared to never know a single thing about her recipient, much less meet him or her. That, she could live with. Snow was there for one reason: to ease someone else’s burden.

But the day after surgery, she did receive the opportunity to meet her recipient, ring the bell and cement a forever connection with Scott.

“I can't imagine being someone — a parent, a spouse, a child — and just worrying about that person who needs help. So I would have to say the connection with Scott and Susan and his family was a bonus.”

While Snow took care of someone else’s need for a kidney, MUSC took care of her, and she felt well-informed throughout the process. “They give you every piece of information and all the tools that you need, so you're not wondering about anything,” she says. “Every level of care or examination I received at MUSC was great.”

For Snow, who is healing wonderfully post-op, her biggest question is: Why don’t more people donate?

“If you can run, jump and play, why wouldn’t you donate,” she says. “What you do for a person who needs a kidney is incredible.”

It’s recipients like Scott Price who are thankful for such sentiments.

Scott, a high school engineering teacher in Columbia, SC, found out he had kidney disease “by accident” 20 or so years ago. While waiting for a prescription to be filled at his local pharmacy, he decided to try out the blood pressure machine in the waiting area.

“I slipped my arm in and the blood pressure reading came back so high that I thought the machine was broken,” he says. “I was alarmed.”

Ironically, Scott is a former medical device designer, designing EKG machines and ambulatory blood pressure machines. He jokes that he set the North American record for EKG tests and blood pressure tests simply because the products required a live subject. But on this particular day, he was faced with results he’d never seen before.

After driving directly to the “doc in the box” next door to confirm, and then to a nephrology clinic, he was diagnosed with stage two kidney disease. He changed his diet and began the steady monitoring process, which brought him to September of 2020. He’d just changed careers and started teaching high school when COVID took hold and virtual learning was launched.

“I was so dissatisfied with the way the previous year ended, knowing that my students weren't getting the education that they should be getting out of my class,” he says. “I really pushed hard to give my students the best possible education that I could give them virtually. And I was really driving myself and not taking care of myself, not eating properly, not drinking enough water, probably drinking too much alcohol. You know, just not coping very well at all. Not exercising, just doing everything wrong.”

Then one day, Scott wound up collapsing at school. He was admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with stage five kidney disease and told he’d have to start dialysis. A kidney transplant would now be necessary.

Luckily, a church friend who had been through this 20 years ago was able to help Scott navigate this new path. In addition, his family medical history had already toughened him up.

You see, Scott’s son was born deaf and now lives with a cochlear implant, while his daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 10. And his wife, Robin, has a nerve condition that leads to debilitating headaches.

“Then I came along with kidney disease,” he says. “So all four of us have stories.”

These experiences have also helped him and his wife lead lives of advocacy and prepared them for the uncomfortable task of asking loved ones for a kidney. Plenty answered the call but it was Robin’s cousin, Bill Ratteree’s wife, Susan Ratteree, who became a participant in the transplant chain. Though Susan, also from Columbia, was not a direct match, she agreed to donate to someone else, which enabled Scott to receive a kidney.

According to both Scott and Susan, the Prices and Ratterees are more like brothers and sisters than cousins, so offering up her kidney for Scott felt like the most natural thing in the world for her to do — especially considering she has always had a heart for giving.

"I’ve been an organ donor on my driver's license forever," Susan says. "And I was a therapist and a manager at one of the other hospitals here in town that treated children, so I gave platelets for a number of years to be on the bone marrow transplant list but never got a call from that.”

Susan did eventually get a call, matching her up with a recipient in need, a total stranger. Only two weeks after completing her evaluation, the surgery date was set. She put it on the calendar and that was that. “I really didn’t think about it,” she says.

What did give her pause was the treatment she received at MUSC. “I actually wrote Dr. David Cole, the president of MUSC, a letter about two of the nurses — Megan and Phyllis — on my transplant team," she says. "I've worked in healthcare since the eighties and I've seen a lot of nurses, and they were really extraordinary people.”

In fact, she calls the entire experience a blessing and urges others to give, too, if they can.

“One of our ministers says all the time, 'We're blessed so that we can be a blessing,'" she says, tearfully. "And that's really the way it works. If you don't need both of your kidneys, there are a lot of people that need one for not only their quality of life but really, their life. I want people to know how easy the process is and how great it is to be part of a miracle."

As for her recipient, his name is James Williamson and he did not remain a stranger for long. The two were able to meet and bond over bizarre mutual connections as he told her his own story.

James is 55, lives in Orangeburg, SC and has been an environmental health director for over 32 years. A husband with two college-aged kids, James was diagnosed with type-one diabetes at age 15 and, with the help of a Columbia endocrinologist, has mostly kept it under control for over 25 years. But three years ago, the disease worsened and his doctor referred him to MUSC Health’s Transplant Center.

He and his wife, Anne Williamson, braced themselves for a years-long search for a donor. “Then out of the blue on September 23rd, I get a phone call from MUSC that I was a match with a Good Samaritan,” he says. “They said that it was like winning the lottery to be the perfect match with this donor.”

The couple spent the weeks before surgery overwhelmed, feeling excited, scared and relieved all at once. Once the day arrived, they were mentally prepared, confident in the care team assigned to the task.

“I couldn't have asked for a better transplant team, all the way from the coordinators to the nurses, the surgeons, the doctors,” he says. “I keep praising the care that I’ve received.”

As for the stranger that gave him his heath back, they’re best buddies now. Susan has called or texted every day since surgery. Anne says. “She keeps saying she’s happy to do this — it’s almost like she was getting something, too. She was just an angel.”

Through this experience, James and Anne feel as though they’ve gained something they never expected: a new family.

That’s why they hope others will donate, too, and take advantage of the opportunity to create such a magical connection and change the life of someone they may not even know.

“If you have that calling to want to donate, please, go through the process and get evaluated because it's lifesaving,” James says. “It's just turned my life around — I've got a new life."

Learn more about the MUSC Health Living Donor Program online or call 843-792-5097 to speak to someone about the program. You may register as a kidney donor here.