Alabaster woman donates kidney to co-worker’s wife

Published 2:50 pm Wednesday, September 12, 2012

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Pell City resident Angela Johnson had been through a lot in the years leading up to her chance meeting with Shanda Whitten.

Since developing kidney-related complications in 2006, Johnson has experienced a wave of emotions ranging from hope to disappointment. About three years ago, Johnson’s complications made it necessary for her to start undergoing dialysis treatments while putting her name on the long list of Alabamians waiting for kidney transplants.

Some of Johnson’s family members appeared to be suitable matches for a transplant, but for one reason or another, each situation fell through.


But earlier this year, a new hire at her husband’s law firm, Balch and Bingham in downtown Birmingham, proved to be an unforeseen blessing. After serving in the Army and working for a short time at Golden Rule Barbecue in Helena, Whitten, an Alabaster resident, received a call telling her she had been chosen by a staffing agency to fill an opening at the law firm.

During her first few months on the job at Balch and Bingham, Whitten got to know Angela Johnson’s husband, Leslie, and heard about the struggles the family was facing.

“He told me she (Angela) had kidney disease and had been on dialysis for three years,” Whitten said. “I asked him if I could see if I was a match for his wife, and he just hugged me.”

A few weeks later, tests determined Whitten was a “perfect match” for Angela Johnson, 43.

“She is black and I am white, so it was rare for my kidney to be a perfect match,” Whitten said, noting she “didn’t think twice” about donating her kidney after learning she was compatible.

Doctors performed the surgery on Sept. 7 at UAB Hospital, and the transplant has succeeded with few issues, said Angela Johnson.

“I don’t think there has been a descriptive word invented yet for how I feel right now,” Angela Johnson said as she recovered at UAB Hospital on Sept. 12. “I had never seen her a day in my life when she said she would donate her kidney to me. I can never repay her for what she has done.”

For Leslie Johnson, Whitten’s generosity helped to bring an end to several years of fear and uncertainty for his family.

“Over the years, it’s been stressful. There have been a lot of hospital visits,” Leslie Johnson said. “It’s just a huge relief for us right now.”

The Johnsons now consider Whitten a part of their family, and said she will “be a part of (their) lives forever.”

“I love her. I’ve always wanted a little sister,” Angela Johnson said. “I feel like God put her here for me.”

Whitten said the event also has filled her with joy.

“I feel like God asked me to do something bigger than myself,” Whitten said. “It brings me so much joy to know that I got the opportunity to save her life and that she will not have to be on dialysis anymore.”