One Middle Tennessee mom is sharing a powerful story of faith, family and survival. As she gets ready for Thanksgiving, she knows this year will be tough because of who's missing from the dinner table.
Zona McGee's son, Ryan, fell ill on Mother's Day and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors determined he had a chiari malformation.
It effects the lower part of the brain and can cause spinal fluid to back up.
"He immediately had to go into surgery. 'Decompress' is what they call it, and he just never recovered," Zona McGee said.
Ryan McGee fought for his life most of the summer but lost his battle in August. He was just 20 years old.
Hours after his death, doctors came to Zona McGee with a request.
"At first I said, 'No, I can't I can't think about it.' And they said, 'Well, you don't understand. This may be your only chance. You're going to die, and you need to take this chance,'" she said.
You see, Zona McGee was sick, too, and had been since Ryan was a little boy.
She has IgA nephropathy and was now in kidney failure after spending the last three years on the donor list waiting for a new kidney.
A Facebook page called "A Kidney for Zona" aimed to get the word out, and it was Ryan's mission to find his mom a kidney.
"He wore this constantly, his 'donate life' hat," Zona McGee said.
Her son even recorded a message on YouTube encouraging organ donation. It was a message Zona didn't find after her son passed away.
Now, she found herself out of options and knew her son was her only hope.
So the day after his death, she postponed his funeral plans and went into surgery.
Dr. Seth Karp, director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, says this is only the second time he's seen this type of family member donation in his career.
"That's a very very unusual type of situation," Karp said.
An unusual situation for doctors was one of the hardest decisions for a mom.
But Zona McGee said she knows it's what Ryan would have wanted.
"I know I did the right thing. I would have regretted it if I didn't. It wouldn't have been right or fair, because he wanted to see me well. If I hadn't taken this kidney, he would have been devastated," she said.
Ryan McGee's gift of life didn't stop with his mother. His other kidney went to a 53-year-old man in need.
His heart went to a Vietnam veteran, and his lungs and his liver were also given to people on the waiting list.
Zona McGee finds peace knowing her son saved so many lives and is sharing her story in hopes of raising awareness about organ donations.
For more information on how to sign up to be an organ donor, visit: http://www.donatelifetn.org/index.aspx.
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