Muncie residents' friendship leads to priceless gift

by John Carlson | The Star Press

MUNCIE -- MaryKay Dalton celebrated her 51st birthday on June 17, but it was her friend Mark Witty who received the gift -- and a priceless one, at that.

It was life, in the form of a kidney.

"It was on my 51st birthday that I had surgery," said the woman, with a warm laugh, from beneath her tumble of wavy blond hair. "I'm just thrilled to death."

Sitting nearby in the living room of MaryKay's northside home, Mark looked the picture of health as he and his wife, Angie, the parents of two children, discussed the procedure, and what led up to it, with his kidney donor.

It started, they noted, with friendship. A radiation oncology assistant in the IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Cancer Center, MaryKay regularly exercises at the Wellness Center with Angie, who works for Pulmonary Management.

"We're just like sisters, honestly," MaryKay said.

She well knew, then, that Mark, a 42-year-old employee of the Cardiac Catheter Lab, had long-standing kidney issues, ones that had been exacerbated by injuries he suffered in a 2007 snowmobile accident. She also knew something else.

"I had always wanted to be an organ donor," she said, noting that in the kidney transplant business, with 80,000 people nationwide hoping to receive one, the popular donor catchphrase has become "Share Your Pair."

This convergence of need and desire began coming together more than two years earlier, as MaryKay -- a grandmother of seven who qualified as a "universal donor" thanks to her O negative blood type -- began researching the possibility of donating a kidney and learning about the extensive procedures that would be required, as well as allaying her husband Benny's fears.

"At first he was a little scared," she admitted.

Over that period, a couple of potential kidney donations for Mark fell through for assorted reasons.

"For about two and a half years we had a lot of stress," he recalled, noting he wanted a kidney transplant rather than undergoing dialysis. "I was pretty adamant I wasn't going to get (dialysis) unless it was the last straw."

Meanwhile, as his need worsened, MaryKay's pace of testing increased.

"She went through the wringer," Angie said, with a grateful look at her friend.

Still, MaryKay was at peace with her decision and what seemed to be the approaching operation.

"I was as close to God as I could get," she said. "I just knew that it was God's will."

And on her birthday, it came to pass.

On the way to Indianapolis, she and Benny, who owns City Lights, prayed about what was to come. She also took great comfort in hearing a favorite hymn of hers, It Is Well With My Soul, on the radio.

What's more, that feeling played out in the celebratory atmosphere in their rooms down at IU Health Medical Center, as family members and medical personnel sang Happy Birthday to her while they prepared for what would be a five-hour surgical procedure.

It also played out in the results.

Having spent nine days in the hospital after the transplant, Mark is now working his way through the careful recovery period his transplant necessitates.

MaryKay, to be sure, is doing the same thing, and nearing recovery.

Meanwhile, both she and Mark are pondering their shared experience and its impact on their lives.

For her, it has brought some happy tears.

"I just think it's a beautiful journey," she said. "It's changed the way I believe and the way I feel about a lot of things."

Mark's overriding thought?

"You go through a lot of emotions, thinking there's a big debt you owe somebody," he said.

His wife, Angie, nodded her agreement.

"You're getting a gift that can't be repaid," she said.

And all concerned hope that their experience inspires others to help those in need when they can.

"That's a special angel of the Lord right there," Mark said with a smile and a nod in MaryKay's direction.

"And she shared her spare!" Angie added with a laugh.