One kidney, two lives

Published 4:31 pm Friday, June 5, 2015

Holland Branton, right, donated a kidney to his cousin, Gail Spivey, in 2011.

Holland Branton, right, donated a kidney to his cousin, Gail Spivey, in 2011.

April is National Donate Life Month, so it’s a special time for cousins Holland Branton and Gail Spivey.

About three and a half years ago, Branton donated one of his kidneys to Spivey to help her recover from kidney failure.

She had been sick for several years. She said it started with feeling ill, and she soon became continually lethargic and dizzy. Once doctors diagnosed the trouble, she was put on a strict diet and had to drink lots of water.

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The doctor had given her until Oct. 31, 2011, before she would have had to go on dialysis.

“I was living in Kill Devil Hills at the time,” Branton said. He visited Suffolk and ran into Spivey’s husband, Shelton, in a store.

Shelton Spivey handed his cousin-in-law a form, seeking a kidney donor for his wife. The initial intent was to find someone who was willing to donate to someone else in exchange for one of that person’s relatives donating to Spivey in what is sometimes known as a “domino transplant.”

But little did they know that Spivey and Branton were a perfect match to each other.

“We both went through the test with flying colors,” Spivey said. “Holland is so strong.”

Her doctors likened it to “putting a Cadillac kidney in a Volkswagen,” she said.

A living donor gives the recipient a much better chance of surviving and thriving with the new organ. One who is related also gives a better chance of a good outcome.

The surgery took place Oct. 25, 2011 — less than a week shy of Spivey’s deadline.

“The first place I wanted to stop was Bojangle’s,” she joked. But other than that indulgence, she said she feels an “obligation to be as healthy as I can be.”

“It’s just a miracle that they can do that,” she said. “It’s really kind of hard to put into words, as you can imagine.”

For his part, Branton said he felt it was his duty to God to give his kidney to his cousin.

“It’s a lot like serving God,” he said. “You have to be willing.”

“There’s not another person in the world like Holland,” Spivey said. “He is so devoted to the Lord since he has given his life to Christ. He feels the kidney wasn’t his to give. It belonged to the Lord.”

The cousins said their spouses, Claire Branton and Shelton Spivey, were very supportive through the entire process.

For more information about organ donation or to sign up to be an organ donor, visit