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'I know it was a God thing'

Kidney transplant brings rare friendship for two women


REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Karin Powers, left, and Diane Schmelz became close friends from the moment they met. A crisis in Karins life caused them to be even closer friends.

Diane Schmelz does not think that donating a kidney to Karin Powers was any big deal.

Karin Powers thinks it is such a big deal that she cannot keep from crying when she thinks about it. In fact, in whatever she now does — bowling, golfing, having dinner or washing the dishes — she gives thanks to Schmelz.

“You’re my friend, my angel and my hero,” Powers tearfully tells Schmelz.

Schmelz just laughs.

After all, what are friends for if they can’t give you a kidney?

Of course, donating a kidney is a very big deal, indeed, but striking any poses of self-sacrifice, heroism or even bravery are totally foreign to Schmelz. However, there is a strong spiritual element involved. Schmelz is strong in her Christian faith, and she said, “I know it was a God thing.”

It was on Valentine’s Day that Schmelz performed her amazing act of friendship and underwent an operation in which one of her kidneys was transplanted into the body of Powers. It all went so smoothly that it had doctors scratching their heads and looking up records for the fastest kidney transplant ever. Almost instantly health started returning to Powers.

“As soon as Diane’s kidney was put in it turned pink and started working,” Powers said.

Schmelz thought that was great and started planning when they could play golf again.

Cooking is high on the list of what Karin Powers and Diane Schmelz like to do. Thanks to Schmelz donating a kidney, Powers can enjoy her life again.

It was only last year that Schmelz, a Lake Oswego resident, and Powers, a West Linner, met at the Oswego Lake Country Club, and they immediately became close friends. They became golf buddies, mahjong buddies, prayer buddies and Bible buddies. The only sticking point in their relationship was that Powers was a much better golfer than Schmelz.

However, it soon dawned on Schmelz that her new friend was not looking well.

Schmelz said, “I asked Karin what was wrong and she said, ‘It’s my disease.’ I asked, ‘What disease?’ She said, ‘I need a kidney transplant. But don’t worry. I have a donor lined up.’”

The two friends went back to playing golf. But a little while later they were at a mahjong gathering among friends, and a teary-eyed Powers said, “It has fallen through.” Her donor had been stricken with a medical problem. It was the second time a kidney donor for Powers had to drop out.

The women at the table reached out to hold each other’s hands, and one of them said, “We’ll all be tested.”

“As soon as we touched hands, my whole body said, ‘It’s you,’” Schmelz said. “It was a revelation.”

Schmelz did not run out and tell the world right away. She went home and told her husband Kurt, who was quite surprised and became greatly concerned.

“Kurt said, ‘This is kind of serious,’” Schmelz said. “I told him, ‘It will all be fine. It’s a go.’”

Kurt “was not cheering about this decision,” but their sons Kellen and Bredon were just fine with it. Kellen said, “This sounds right.” Bredon said, “Well, of course.”

Schmelz broke the news to Powers in a most casual way.

“We were golfing at the country club,” she said. “We were on the fourth hole and I told her, ‘By the way, I’m going to give you a kidney. Kurt and I prayed two months and I’m going to be a donor.’ Karin said, ‘Are you serious?’ Then she started crying.”

But at least this time she cried tears of joy.

A cup of coffee to start the day is always a pleasure for Powers and Schmelz. The two friends have a great story to tell their other friends.

Kidney disease crept up on Powers five years ago, just when she was enjoying a rich family life and owning a successful women’s clothing store in Central Village in West Linn. But she started feeling worse and worse, and she could not figure out why. Her blood pressure was steadily rising. Then a trip to the doctor revealed that she had only 30 percent of normal kidney function.

“I was pretty much shocked,” Powers said.

Her life drained away as she simply did not have the energy to do what she loved to do. She was losing 1 percent of her kidney function every month. She was certainly going to need dialysis.

Then Diane Schmelz came merrily along. Not once did her faith waver. She constantly boosted Powers’ spirits and insisted she had no need to worry.

“I told her, ‘God’s got this!’” Schmelz said.

Finally the day of the big kidney switcheroo party arrived on Feb. 14. The entire cast at the transplant operation, especially Powers, were extremely serious, worrying and praying. Meanwhile, Schmelz was chatting happily away. Right up to the moment before she was given the anesthetic a nurse told Schmelz she could back out and no one would think less of her. Schmelz only laughed and said, “Oh, yeah.”

In the end, Schmelz proved to be astonishingly right. She had proven to be the World’s Happiest Kidney Donor. Her kidney popped out so fast (a possible world record of 36 seconds) and was placed in Powers so quickly that doctors were left searching for adjectives adequate for what had happened. Schmelz became restless from the moment she woke up from her anesthetic, and at one point she even disappeared from her hospital room.

“I had to go see Karin,” Schmelz said.

Since the operation, it has been five months of celebration for Schmelz, Powers, their families and friends. Schmelz had her golf buddy back. Powers had her life back.

Schmelz scoffs at the idea of her being a hero, angel or miracle woman. She is just extremely glad and grateful that everything turned out the way she knew it would.

“When I hear Karin laughing again, I know it was the best thing I ever did,” Schmelz said.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or by email at cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com.

The future looks bright for Powers and Schmelz. Their Christian faith is the foundation of their friendship. It made their kidney transplant operation a joy instead of a trial.

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