Courtland Milloy in Washington Post, quoted in Reader's Digest
Jermaine Washington, 26, did something that amazes many people. He became a kidney donor, giving a vital organ to a woman he describes as "just a friend."
Washington met Michelle Stevens, 23, when they began working together at the Washington, D.C., Department of Employment Services. They used to have lunch with one another and chitchat during breaks. "He was somebody I could talk to," says Stevens. "One day, I cried on his shoulder. I had been on the kidney donor waiting list for 11 months, and I had lost all hope."
She told Washington how depressing it was to spend three days a week, three hours a day, on a kidney dialysis machine. She suffered chronic fatigue and blackouts and was plagued by joint pain. He could already see that she had lost her smile.
"I saw my friend dying before my eyes," Washington recalls. "What was I supposed to do? Sit back and watch her die?"
Steven's mother, suffering from hypertension, was ineligible to donate a kidney. Her two brothers were reluctant.
"I understood," says Stevens. "They said they loved me very much, but they were just too afraid."
The operation at Washington Hospital Center in April 1991 began with a painful procedure in which doctors inserted a catheter into an artery in Washington's groin. They then injected dye through the catheter into his kidney before taking X-rays to determine if it was fit for transplant.
A week later, an incision nearly 15 inches long was made from his navel to the middle of his back. After surgery he remained hospitalized for five days.
Today, both Stevens and Washington are fully recovered. "I jog at least twice a week," Washington says. Three times a month, they get together for what they call a "gratitude lunch."
Despite occasional pressure by friends, a romantic relationship is not what they want. "We are thankful for the beautiful friendship that we have," Stevens says. "We don't want to mess up a good thing."
To this day, people wonder why Washington did it&md;and even question his sanity. But when one admirer asked him where he had found the courage to give away a kidney, his answer quelled the skeptics. "I prayed for it," Washington replied. "I asked God for guidance and that's what I got."