From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

As Close as Sisters

It was a balmy Virginia night when Shirley Bumgardner dropped in on Margaret Rowe to see if she was over her summer cold. Best friends for thirty years, they’d grown as close as sisters, so Shirley often came by.

She knocked on Margaret’s door. No answer. “Probably just went to bed early,” she shrugged. She turned to leave, but then something—a premonition, a touch of the coldest fear—stopped her in her tracks. She knocked harder. No answer. Slipping an emergency key from her pocket, she went inside.

“Oh, no!” Shirley gasped, when she saw Margaret sprawled across the bed, her face pale. “She looks like she’s at death’s door!”

Helping her friend into the car, Shirley whispered a prayer. “Please let someone be able to save my friend.” Shirley never guessed that she herself might be that someone.

It had been a steamy afternoon in 1963 when Margaret stepped into the soothing coolness of the drugstore in Suffolk, Virginia, where Shirley worked as a pharmacist.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m throwing good money after bad,” Margaret sighed, handing over her prescription. “I take my medication but my blood pressure is still high.”

“It’d be even higher if you didn’t,” cautioned Shirley. While she filled the order, the women, both in their thirties, chatted away.

“What a nice person,” Shirley marveled, as Margaret left.

Then they began running into each other at the restaurants in Suffolk. Over lunches, they found they had a lot in common: an aversion to cooking, a love of travel, and the trials and tribulations of dating. Neither of them had found Mr. Right yet. “So in the meantime,” they resolved, “we’ll fill our lives with other things!”

Shirley bought the pharmacy, and Margaret grew to love her job as the office manager for an accounting firm. Margaret had family nearby, and both women made friends easily. They were in a bridge club that met regularly.

And they talked and talked—sharing gossip, secret worries and hopes.

“Best friends for life,” they’d always say.

Then a few years ago, Margaret noticed she wasn’t feeling as chipper as usual. “Probably just my blood pressure,” she told herself. It had been high ever since she was a child. Though she took her medicine faithfully, she’d had tired spells before.

So she was shocked when she went in for a routine physical and her doctor told her, “I’m very sorry, but your kidneys are failing.” A lifetime of high blood pressure, he said, had damaged them.

Stunned, Margaret stared at him.

“We can change my medication, right?” she asked.

“At this point,” he said, his eyes soft with sympathy, “medication won’t help.”

“Then . . . isn’t there anything you can do?” Margaret cried.

“You’ll need a kidney transplant,” he told her. “But with so many on the list . . . your turn may not come up for a long time.”

Margaret read between the lines all too well: And I might not last that long.

The office was quiet except for the ticking of the clock— and Margaret’s muffled crying. “There’s so much I still want to do!” she wept.

Driving home, Margaret’s heart was heavy, but her mind was resolved. “I won’t let this destroy the years I have left,” she vowed.

In the morning, she mustered up enthusiasm and returned to work. And that night, though she told Shirley she was having kidney problems, she didn’t let on just how serious her condition was.

But now, months later, as Shirley raced to the hospital, she realized just how sick her friend must be.

The next hours were agony. At the hospital, Shirley paced until the doctor appeared.

“How is she?” she cried.

“Not good, I’m afraid—she’s in full kidney failure,” he said. “She’ll have to go on dialysis immediately.”

Later that night, Shirley tried to hide her fear. “You’ll be fine,” she comforted Margaret.

Margaret smiled weakly. “Let’s hope so.”

For the next few months, Margaret underwent daily dialysis treatments. Yet despite them, she grew weaker. She knew that now, only a transplant would give her back her life. But doctors said the chances were that only a blood relative would be a match—and her brother couldn’t donate because he’d had two heart attacks. “So does that mean Margaret will have to die waiting?” Shirley worried. “I can’t let that happen!”

One afternoon, as the women sat talking, Margaret confided, “I’m so scared. What if they don’t find a donor in time?”

Shirley paused. “I know the doctors will say there is little chance,” she said. “But Margaret, I want to be tested. I want to donate my kidney.”

“Shirley, I can’t let you do that!” Margaret cried. “It’s too risky.”

Shirley gripped her hand. “We’re best friends,” she said. “If the shoe were on the other foot, you’d do it for me. Please let me try!”

Margaret’s eyes shone with gratitude.

But the kidney specialist warned the women not to get their hopes up. Their blood and antigens would have to be compatible, she explained, something that usually happens only with siblings or parents and children. “The chances you’ll be a match are a million to one—or worse,” she cautioned.

Undeterred, Shirley and Margaret took the battery of tests—then waited . . .

Shirley was filling a prescription, when she picked up the phone to hear: “It’s unbelievable, but you’re a match!” the nurse said. “Surgery is a go!”

Shirley dropped the bottle, spilling pills all over the counter. “Thank you! Thank you!” she cried. Within weeks, the women checked into the hospital, nervous—but hopeful. “I’ll always be grateful to you,” Margaret told Shirley, as they waited in the hospital corridor. “You’re the best friend I could ever have.”

Six hours later, a voice pierced the fog in Shirley’s brain. She opened her eyes.

“It was a success, dear,” said a smiling nurse. “Your kidney is already working in your friend.”

“We did it!” Shirley smiled—then drifted back to sleep.

A few weeks later, the friends were back home.

Now, months later, Shirley is fully recovered, and Margaret is getting stronger every day.

“I owe it all to Shirley,” Margaret says. “She saved my life.”

Shirley, meanwhile, is thumbing through travel brochures.

“We’re going to Atlantic City as soon as Margaret is ready,” she says, a mischievous light dancing in her eyes. “I figure that since we beat the odds once, we might get lucky again.”

Heather Black
Previously appeared in Woman’s World

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