Florida newlyweds are reminding people of the importance of family after the bride donated her kidney to her new husband’s ex-wife.
Debby Neal-Strickland, 56, from Florida married Jim Merthe on November 22, 2020 on the 10-year anniversary of their first date, GMA reports. Two days later, the woman donated her organ to Merthe’s first wife, Mylaen Merthe, who suffered from kidney disease.
"She’s a person and she needed a kidney and I had one. I was healthy enough to give it to her," Neal-Strickland told the outlet. "She’s also the mother of my guy’s kids and they were having their first two grandchildren."
Mylaen had struggled with kidney disease for over 30 years. She learned last year that her organs were functioning at only 8% and was “on the verge of dialysis.”
Although the Merthes have been divorced for over 10 years, they remained friends. And Mylaen and Neal-Strickland developed a close relationship.
"[We] usually text every single day," Neal-Strickland said. "We talk quite a bit. We call ourselves kidney sisters."
"I have a lot of love for her," Mylaen told GMA. "She’s a family member."
Aware of Mylaen's life-threathening health condition, Neal-Strickland, a grandmother herself, was determined to keep her blended family together.
"I love Jim enough that I don’t want him to experience any of that without her," she said.
When Mylaen’s brother tested negative for organ donation, Neal-Stricken stepped up and offered hers after her blood and tissue testing came back as a match.
"She called me every single day of the testing. She was like 'I passed this one. We match. This is going to happen,'" Mylaen recalled, adding that she was in shock and it all felt "unreal."
Half a year since the transplant, Mylaen is feeling great and very thankful.
"Debby saved my life, honestly," Mylaen said. "All I ever wanted was to be a grandma and to have grandchildren and to be there for them. Now I’ve got two and it’s because of her."