Thanksgiving was a metaphor in motion for Ann Brady and Scott Flowers.
Life is defined by a series of boundaries. And last year, young father Flowers faced something of a blockade to his future as acute symptoms of his hereditary polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, flared.
A tenacious Navy veteran and physician’s assistant, Flowers, 37, had long tried to defy the physiological challenges with which the disease depleted him.
But by this time in 2018, his kidneys had ballooned from a normal five ounces to 10 and 11.5 pounds each. They were riddled with cysts and failing to sweep toxins from his body. Flowers was growing weary.
On Thursday, though, in a poetic twist typically reserved for feel-good movies, Flowers crossed a 5-K finish line during a race with the very Rockingham County woman who gave her healthy kidney to him on Jan. 30.
The two strode across the Greensboro Gobbler race’s white line smiling, Flowers pushing forward his youngest child, Claire, 16 months.
Son Matthew, 5, followed along on a bike, wife Amanda jogged in step.
Beside Flowers, Ann Brady, 68, of Reidsville — the woman who was inspired last year to share her healthy kidney with Flowers when she realized he risked losing the chance to watch his children grow up. Children she had grown to adore.
“Crossing the finish line with him able to run … Scott had gotten so sick with his kidney that he hadn’t been able to do much of anything last year,’’ Brady said.
“And being there yesterday with his whole family and seeing how healthy he is … was just wonderful,’’ said Brady of Reidsville, an avid horse woman who served 38 years with Rockingham County Schools in many roles, including as Director of Exceptional Services.
“It meant the world to me,’’ Flowers said from his medical office on Friday. “I feel like Ann is my angel who swooped in. I feel like I’m a walking miracle because of how blessed this whole situation is. To be able to live a life that now seems like what it’s supposed to be. To feel like I was never sick in the first place.’’
Explaining that he feels five years younger with his new organ, Flowers said, “The fact that both of us were able to cross the finish line. You look at that picture of us, and I was kind of awestruck. If I was on the outside looking in, I would say it’s really truly incredible.’’
Brady met the Flowers family several years ago when they began boarding their horse “Sparkle” at her Julianne Farm.
She already had an interest in living organ donation from listening to an NPR show on the subject a few years back, Brady said. “It had been on my mind ever since.’’
Another inspiration came from a childhood friend who had recently undergone a successful lung transplant.
Brady knew Flowers was stuck with few options. Placed on a waiting list for a donor kidney, Flowers,with blood type O, would likely wait from six to eight years for an organ from a deceased donor.
At least five friends had tried to offer a kidney, but failed to match Flowers’ needs.
So Flowers was forced to consider that his only option might be to spend his children’s formative years tethered to dialysis machines and exhausted by the disease.
Brady could not accept that option.
Despite two days-worth of pre-surgery tests to determine if she was a suitable match to Flowers and a surgery at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Brady said, “Honestly, this is the easiest thing I’ve ever done that makes me feel good.’’
These days, she wears a silver necklace with a kidney-shaped charm given to her by Flowers’ son, Matthew. It’s a symbol of her connection to the family, as well as a reminder for folks who may be considering making a living organ donation, Brady said.
“I’ve run into a lot of people who are donors and recipients … there are lot more people than you’d think,’’ said Brady, whose recovery was so easy she walked four miles just two days after the operation.
Flowers’ wife Amanda marveled on Thanksgiving at how her husband’s new healthy body showed a kind of unbridled energy during the race and after.
“For us to actually make it happen, to cross the finish line ... it’s hard to describe. Last year we barely made it. It was a lot of walking and a lot of recovery after running. I think Scott slept for three hours after the race last year just to recover,’’ she said, noting that by pushing his daughter in her jogging stroller for most of the race, Flowers had added another 50 pounds to his task.
“And this year, after the race, he was raking and blowing leaves and helping get the Christmas decorations down.’’
As a medical professional and living donor beneficiary, Flowers stressed how important it is for healthy adults to consider such organ donations. “Hopefully, people get an idea from me, that a transplant affects somebody’s life in such a positive way. And hopefully, people can see that and say, ‘Hey, I can make an extraordinary change in somebody’s life. ‘ ”