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We Kid-ney Not: York race team highlights friend's organ donation

SAMUEL FROST
YorkDispatch

On the Friday before Labor Day in 2009, Leslie Bentz received a message from Jan Clary-Mathews, a childhood friend who was undergoing kidney dialysis.

Clary-Mathews' sister had spent the past year undergoing a series of tests to be a donor. It looked like a match, but the transplant operation was canceled after a final exam showed it wouldn't work.

"I just went back to dialysis and I said, 'It is what it is, just keep working at it,'" said Clary-Mathews, 54, of East Pennsboro Township.

But Bentz knew how deeply the dialysis treatments affected her friend and that they were only a short-term solution to her kidney disease.

Undeterred, she contacted a mutual childhood friend, Nancy Williams-Smith.

"All three of us are childhood friends, and I had stayed in closer contact," said Bentz, 54, of Spring Garden Township. "I kind of brought them back together again."

"I told Nancy what was going on, and she said immediately, 'We're going to do this.'"

Match found: Williams-Smith, a clinical pharmacist at York Hospital and a longtime advocate for organ donation, was determined that one of the ladies would be Clary-Mathews' kidney donor.

"At that point, since I was always interested in organ donation ... I just decided to see what was involved," said Williams-Smith, 53, also of Spring-Garden Township.

Although Bentz knew her blood type didn't match, she was willing to undergo a procedure for the paired exchange program through the National Kidney Registry. Through that program, Bentz could have donated a kidney anonymously and, in return, Clary-Mathews would've received a kidney from a compatible living donor.

But as it turned out, Williams-Smith was an exact match.

On the morning of Groundhog Day in February of 2010, she successfully donated a kidney to her friend at the Pinnacle Health Harrisburg Hospital.

"From my perspective, it was awesome because I didn't realize how bad I felt until I got this kidney — I felt really good," Clary-Mathews said.

With no complications after the procedure, the pair was released from the hospital in three days.

"We both left the hospital arm-in-arm right before the blizzard came, then Jan went back to work before me at three weeks, and after four weeks I went back to work," Williams-Smith said.

Fifth anniversary: The three women gather each year to celebrate the success of the transplant.

This year, the ladies will commemorate the fifth anniversary of the transplant by forming a team and participating in the 2015 Y-TriDu5K triathlon, held on June 28 at York College's Grumbacher Sports Center.

To commemorate their experience, the three ladies named their team We Kid-ney Not.

Although Williams-Smith had not been swimming in nearly 30 years, she has begun swimming regularly at the YWCA.

She will kick off the triathlon with the 20-lap, 500-meter indoor serpentine swim at the sports center.

"I was on the swim team in ninth grade, that's the last time I swam," she said. "This was a sort of 'fear factor' to get me going. It should be inspiration for other people who never do this kind of thing to just go and try it."

Williams-Smith will then hand the timing bracelet to Bentz, who will strap it to her ankle before setting off on the 15-mile bike ride.

She hadn't been riding for years, so she attends spin classes at the YWCA a couple times a week.

Bentz will hand the bracelet to Clary-Mathews, who will walk the 5K leg of the race because she's unable to run.

But she won't be alone. Both of her friends will walk the course and cross the finish line with her.

The ladies aren't interested in winning the event or even what their times will be, they said.

Their participation is a tribute to the power of friendship in tough times and to raise awareness about organ donation, they said.

"I just think that we should all consider organ donation because so many people are on the waiting list, and dialysis is a tough thing to go through," Williams-Smith said. "I cannot tell the difference with just one kidney. If I had a third kidney, I'd donate that, too, because it was such a wonderful experience."