Fall’s cooler temperatures were approaching and with them another sinus infection. Or so Emery Stone thought. He had been feeling run down for days. I’ll just see my doctor, get some antibiotics, and be back to normal in a few days, he thought. 

But when Emery’s doctor saw his patient’s extremely elevated blood pressure, he was concerned enough to order blood tests and a urinalysis. The results indicated something much more serious than a sinus infection: Emery Stone was in total kidney failure. 

And that’s when everything changed. Not only for Emery, but for the entire Stone family. 

A world turned upside down

Emery and his wife, Mariah, live in Lone Jack, Missouri. They first met at a party and dated for a while but lost touch.

About a year later, a friend stopped by and told Emery he had a surprise for him. When he went outside, he found Mariah, who was not living just a few houses down the street from him. The reconnection was instant. It was as if the two had never separated. They even discovered they shared the same birthday—same day, same month, same year.

They were the perfect match.

Their family grew to include four beautiful daughters: Caity, Savannah, and twins Madison and Taylor. Mariah worked in the kitchen at Lone Jack High School. Emery put in 12-hour days as a car salesman. The initial call Emery received about his illness was a shock, to say the least.

“I hung up on them,” Emery recalls.

Eventually, he learned he had a rare kidney disease called IgA nephropathy. He worked with doctors to control the disease but had a few setbacks. A steroid he was prescribed caused internal bleeding that sent him to the hospital. The Stones felt frustrated and scared. 

A friend then referred Emery to Ryan Lustig, MD, of Kansas City Kidney Consultants. Dr. Lustig began working with Emery to get him back on track. Emery’s kidney function would need to fall below 20 percent before he could qualify for transplant.

A new kidney for Emery

There are major disparities between people who need kidneys and the number of available organs, says Lee Cummings, MD, surgical director of the kidney transplant program at Saint Luke’s.

“There are close to 100,000 people waiting for a kidney in the United States,” he says. “But there are only about 20,000 kidneys available on average each year. Based on where you live, you could end up waiting an inordinate amount of time. It could be 10 years in California. It could be four, five years in Washington, D.C.”

At Saint Luke’s, the median time to kidney transplant is six months. Within the region, the standard is 37 months.   

In November 2014, Emery reached the critical point with his kidney function and qualified for transplant. Mariah Stone asked the kidney team at Saint Luke’s what her husband’s best option would be: to wait for a deceased donor or pursue a living donor. The doctors told her that getting a kidney from a living donor would double her husband’s life expectancy, reduce stress and fear, and allow them to schedule the operation in advance.

It was all Mariah needed to hear. She offered to donate one of her own kidneys to her husband to save his life.

Answering the call

Living donors are most often relatives of the person in need of an organ.  

“Spouse to spouse donation does happen, but it’s rare,” says Dr. Cummings. “The most limiting factor is blood type.”

Mariah underwent a battery of tests to see if she could be a donor for her husband. It was an agonizing wait. When Saint Luke’s called the Stones with the results, she hesitated.

“She wouldn’t answer it,” daughter Savannah recalls. “She just kind of looked at it, and I was like, ‘Come on, pick up the phone.’ When she finally picked it up, she started breathing really hard. And then she started crying. That’s when she said, ‘I’m a match, I get to give your dad a kidney.’ ”

Emery would get his new kidney from his wife on Jan. 20, 2015.

Transplant day

Emery and Mariah were both excited and nervous about the upcoming transplant. Mariah had never had any kind of surgery before. But the experienced team at Saint Luke’s—where about 1,600 kidney transplants have been performed—assured the Stones they were in good hands.

The couple met with a transplant nurse navigator, who guided them through the waiting period and what to expect from the operation. A dietitian worked with Emery to understand what foods could help him maintain optimal health with his new kidney.

On surgery day, everything went smoothly. There were no complications, and the transplant was a success. The Stone family collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

“I was kind of scared, but I was excited and proud that my mom gave my dad his kidney,” says daughter Madison.

After surgery, the couple recovered in separate rooms on the same floor of the hospital—but if one of them went missing, staff always knew where to look.

“They would come looking for us if we weren’t in our rooms,” Mariah starts.

“Then they’d go to the other one’s room to find us to do our blood pressure or vitals,” Emery laughs. 

They continued their recovery, relying on family and their church community for help. Friends helped with meals and getting the girls to school. Emery’s boss let him take time off from work. They consider themselves blessed.

Back to normal

Today, the Stone family is stronger than ever. Both Mariah and Emery are as healthy as they’ve ever been. All the Stone daughters rave about their father’s ability to keep up with them. The couple eats better and exercise more to extend the life of Mariah’s kidney, now inside Emery.

Every day, they’re thankful for the second chance their family received.

“When I think back on the sacrifice Mariah has made to donate an actual body part, an organ, a vital organ at that, it’s completely unselfish,” says Emery. “There's no way to ever thank her or to even consider say how I can ever repay her. There's no repayment for somebody that can do something like that.”

Give the Gift of Life: Become an Organ Donor

Each year, more than 4,700 people die waiting for a kidney transplant. Learn more about becoming a living donor.