BY AMY HOWELL HIRT
With a mother in New York and a sister and two nieces in Florida, Jenny Hudson, 47, has a relatively small family.
Yet there are three grown children and eight grandchildren she needs to meet, at a birthday party for a man who was a stranger until a few weeks ago.
"She's family now, she just hasn't met everybody yet," says Tom Hendrix Jr., who will celebrate his 54th birthday on Monday, in part thanks to Hudson's gift of a kidney.
It's standard procedure that donor and recipient don't meet before the transplant, so Hudson, who lives in Newport, and Hendrix, who lives in Colerain Township, knew nothing about each other as they underwent simultaneous surgeries at Christ Hospital on Aug. 31.
About 15 years ago, Hendrix suffered sudden hypertension-related kidney failure and was put on dialysis. Because there's less chance that a recipient's body will reject a kidney from a blood relative, Hendrix turned to his family, and found he was compatible with his son's kidney.
"He was ready, but had just had his first child. I wasn't going to ask him to do that," Hendrix said. "So I went on the waiting list (for a cadaver organ)."
While a kidney from a living donor can last as long as 15 to 20 years, Hendrix's first cadaver transplant wait lasted less than a year, and the second lasted 10 years. After that, his name went on the national list for a live donor - and Hendrix went on dialysis - for 2 1/2 years.
In April, he received the call: there was a match.
Unlike some organ donors, Hudson has no personal story of survival or family history of disease that inspired her to give back - and that's exactly why she volunteered her kidney.
As a public relations representative for Christ Hospital, Hudson has seen how organ donation changes people's lives. She recognized that as a healthy adult who wouldn't feel as anxious about a voluntary surgical procedure - given her familiarity with the hospital world - she could be a prime candidate.
"It was more like, 'Why not?'" Hudson said of her decision. "I don't plan to have any kids. There's nothing of me that needs to carry on."
"It sounds corny, but I just didn't want to get to the end of my life and not be able to say that I had done all I could for someone else."
She finally got to meet that "someone else" on Nov. 19.
Hendrix and Hudson joke with each other like old friends.
Hudson jots down Hendrix's e-mail from memory, and he shows off an ID-style leather bracelet Hudson gave him.
Donor and recipient know they are fortunate, not just because both have recovered smoothly, but that their meeting wasn't just a passing "Thank you."
"It could've been just a Christmas card every year," Hudson says.
"She might get a Christmas dinner this year," Hendrix replies, referring to Hudson's open invitation to his family's holiday celebrations. "I do all the cooking."