This Sunday, sons and daughters across America will undoubtedly shower their moms with flowers, candies and gifts.
But one Golden Isles woman gave her mother an extraordinary gift 15 years ago — and unlike flowers, it’s still being used, and saved her mother’s life.
Lea King-Badyna of St. Simons Island donated a kidney to her mother, Nancy King, in February 2002 after a condition affecting King had deteriorated to the point she needed a transplant.
“She developed a childhood kidney disease as an adult, which is very rare,” King-Badyna said of her mother. “Basically, her kidneys were filtering proteins, which damages them.”
After living with the condition for 18 years, doctors told King the medicine she was taking no longer sufficed and she would need a replacement kidney. The thought of her mother waiting for a kidney made King-Badyna nervous — and with good reason. Currently, there are 5,500 Georgians on waiting lists for organ transplants, according to the LifeLink Foundation, which helps to match organ donors and recipients.
“I was the first one in the family tested, and we were a very close match — not perfect, but enough to work,” King-Badyna said. “She wasn’t very happy about the idea of accepting a kidney from me, but my sister, Lauren, and I convinced her.”
King said it indeed took a lot of persuading for her to finally agree to accept her daughter’s kidney.
“I’ll tell you — when you have a child, you don’t want to take anything from them, so I initially resisted,” King said. “I wanted to go on the waiting list, but my daughters’ argument was so compelling.”
Several years before the kidney transplant became a reality, the King sisters lost their father to colon cancer. The two daughters convinced their mother they didn’t want to see her hurt like their father had. That compassion was enough to change their mother’s mind.
“They had to watch their father suffer, and when I understood that, that’s what tipped the scales for me,” King said.
For her part, King-Badyna never thought twice about donating her kidney.
“I never hesitated,” said King-Badyna. “I had the easy part. All I had to do was go to sleep and wake up. It was the doctors that had the hard part.”
Just before the operation finally got underway at a hospital in Gainesville, Fla., King-Badyna did her best to ease her mother’s stress by managing to find some humor in the affair.
She had T-shirts made for her mother, her sister and herself. Just a month before the operation, King-Badyna ran a marathon, and the T-shirt she gave her mom read: “I haven’t run a marathon, but my kidney has.” For her sister, the T-shirt read: “Spare parts.”
Lucky for the family, the transplant went off without complications and King still has her daughter’s kidney today. She lives in Nahunta in good health.
She visits frequently with her daughters, and often volunteers at Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, where King-Badyna has been executive director for three years.
“I get to volunteer with her at her work, and I’ll stuff envelopes and things like that,” King said. “Lea and Lauren are my world. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. We have total love, and we enjoy each other. We laugh so much when we’re together.”
King-Badyna’s Keep Golden Isles Beautiful office in Old City Hall in Brunswick is practically brimming with “up-cycled” art and creative crafts. It’s a hobby she largely credits her mother for introducing her to.
“Mom loves to lead us in art projects, and we used the dining room table more for art than actual dining,” King-Badyna remembered of her youth.
The family also frequently took trips around the Georgia coast — an experience King-Badyna said led to her appreciation for the area’s natural beauty.
King-Badyna is proud of her mother, and the two ping-pong back and forth complimenting each other’s qualities.
Mothers, King-Badyna said, should be supportive, good listeners, love unconditionally and always work to make their children feel safe — all qualities her own mother has in spades. King is equally as warm when speaking of her daughters.
“I’ve been blessed to have wonderful children. I think they’re wonderful in spite of me,” King said modestly. “I never would have thought I’d give birth to the person who would one day save my life.”
King-Badyna also wants the public to know how important becoming an organ donor can be. In Georgia, there are multiple ways to sign up. Driver’s license holders can sign up when renewing or obtaining a license at the Georgia Department of Driver Services. Alternatively, Georgians can become donors by visiting www.donatelifegeorgia.org and filling out an online or paper form. Additionally, the Brunswick Transplant Support Group meets at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. The group is open to transplant recipients and those in need of transplants, along with their families, living donors and donor families.