Thomas and Kim Duncan made a hospital room more loving than a romantic hotel on Valentine's Day.
Instead of sexy underwear, they put on matching hospital gowns Thursday morning at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where Kim gave her husband of 25 years a kidney. The Jackson, Tenn., couple said they are blessed because she is a transplant match.
"What better day to show God's love as much as our love?" Kim Duncan said before they were wheeled back to the operating room.
Thomas Duncan considers himself to be a lucky man. Besides having a beautiful wife willing to give him one of her kidneys, he has twice before received the gift of this vital organ. He asked people who have not signed up to be organ donors to do so this Valentine's Day and share the love.
"I've been on both sides of the fence," he said. "I've been on a dialysis machine three days a week, knowing that's what I had to do to sustain life. It is a life, but it's just a way of sustaining life. It's not really an enjoyable, self-fulfilled life. A kidney transplant opens everything totally back up to where you can go back to being 90 percent of the person you were before all of it happened."
By Thursday afternoon, both were out of the operating room and doing well, said Jessica Pasley, an information officer with Vanderbilt hospital.
Diagnosed with a kidney disease called mesangioproliferative glomerulonephritis at age 34, Thomas Duncan received his first kidney transplant in 2001 from a deceased donor.
In 2003, he received his second kidney transplant in the state's first paired donation. A neighbor and friend named Patricia Dempsey wanted to give him a kidney at the same time that Melissa Floyd wanted to give one to her mother. Tests determined they weren't good matches for their intended recipients, but a cross-match would work in this case. So Vanderbilt arranged the state's first double-swap transplant that year. Thomas Duncan got Melissa Floyd's kidney, and Dempsey donated hers to Floyd's mother.
Thomas Duncan was a healthy man in his early 20s working at a deli with video arcades in Jackson when he first met his future wife.
"We had an eye for each other but didn't say a whole lot," he said. "Little did we know, years later we would start dating and 25 years later we would be doing this."
The Valentine's Day transplant surgery for the Duncans was originally scheduled for two weeks ago, but he twisted his ankle that morning. Transplant recipients are required to be able to walk after surgery.
It is not uncommon for people with kidney disease to need multiple transplants. Unless there is a organ rejection problem, patients generally have a 72 percent of keeping a kidney past five years if it is their first transplant, according the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, with the odds being 66.8 percent with a repeat transplant.
"It's just a blessing to get one," he said.