Tuson gives the 'gift of life'

Published 8:55 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

By BY LYDIA GRIMES – Features Writer
Angie Tuson is a woman who never planned to be a lifesaver and even today she is modest about the fact that she has done just that. She only agreed to be the subject of a profile in order to publicize the need for organ transplants. That is what she did less than two months ago in order to save her uncle's life. Her uncle is not blood related as he is the husband of her dad's sister. It is most unusual for a non-family member to match. It is more unusual that she was, not only a match, but was a match in blood but in antigen.
Reuben Bell had cancer and lost one kidney. It was discovered that his other kidney was only working at 12 percent while the body needs at least 25 per to live. The answer was to put him on dialysis and place him on the donor list to receive a kidney.
As Bell waited for a donor, his family members were all checked to see if one of them might be a match. None of them were a match or they suffered from their own health problems. No one in the family was able to be of help with a transplant. He just had to wait and hope that a donor would be found somewhere.
Bell's mother, Annie Mae Bell, became ill and was admitted to D.W. McMillan Hospital in September 2002. Tuson works at the hospital in the lab as a certified phlebotomy technician and as she knew Mrs. Bell, she went to visit her in her hospital room.
Later that week Bell came up from Pensacola to visit his mother in the hospital. He stopped by the lab to see Tuson and they started talking. She asked him about the qualifications of being a donor, but never dreamed that she could help. She decided to contact the doctors in Birmingham at UAB and let them check her for a match.
Within a week the transplant coordinator at UAB called and asked if she was related to Bell. She was told that, not only did her blood match, but antigen was also a perfect match. They wanted her to come to Birmingham to spend four days and three nights at UAB to see if she could go through the surgery.
Tuson decided to go to Birmingham and see what would happen next.
Tuson was told that regular surgery would put her out of work for as much as 10 weeks, but if she were eligible, they would do laparoscopic surgery which would be much less invasive. Most people have two arteries going to the kidney, and it was necessary for her to have only one going to each kidney. She is a small woman and it was soon decided that she fit the criteria for the less invasive type of surgery.
The function of each kidney is also very important. The older a person is the less balanced the function is. Ideally it should be 50-50 with both kidneys working the same. It can go to 60-40 or 70-30. Her function was 54-46, so with that and everything else checking out, the surgery was a go.
The surgery was set for Dec. 31 and after five hours for her and seven-and-a-half hours for him, it was completed. The doctors told her that everything went according to plan.
Tuson stayed in the hospital five days and then came home to recuperate. The doctors said that she needed at least four weeks of rest before going back to work.
Tuson was born in England and raised there. She was married and had three children before she moved to Alabama. One of her children, a son, died as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Her family came to the U.S. in 1979 because her father lived in Brewton. Her husband later died and she credits her father as having been there to help her raise her children. The children attended T.R. Miller High School. Her daughter went on to Troy State University and her son joined the U.S. Air Force.
As a young woman Tuson worked as a cadet nurse which is a program in England to house and train people to see if they want to go into the medical profession. After coming to Brewton she went to work as a nurse's aid at Westgate Village where she worked for five years. She then worked with the State of Alabama Home Health Care for the next nine years. After that, she went to work at D.W. McMillan Hospital and got the job training to be a phlebotomist. She became certified and has been working at the hospital for the past six years.
Tuson said she hoped that telling her story might inspire others to learn more about donating.

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