Charlene Jordan feels that she first gave Mick Bride her heart 50 years ago. Two weeks ago, she gave him one of her kidneys.
“It’s the closest thing to her heart she could give me,” Mick says.
The Birch Bay couple, married 16 years, underwent surgery Jan. 31 at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
Without the transplant, Mick, 63, isn’t sure how long he would have lived or the quality of life he would have had with Charlene, 61.
Now they’re optimistic, saying the surgery went as smoothly as they could have asked.
“I’m getting better every day,” says Mick. “Things are going really well. The doctors and nurses were great and it’s been quite an experience.”
And, Mick says, he knows one thing for sure — he still has a lot of lost time to make up with Charlene. They spent nearly three decades apart after glimpsing first love in their teen years.
Their first marriages, both of which lasted more than 20 years, fell apart in the late 1980s. After they rediscovered each other, they dated, married and were happier than they ever thought possible.
Again, happiness is on the horizon for the couple. They waved at each other in the recovery room. One day after the surgery, they were poking their heads into each other’s hospital rooms, flirting like the giddy teenagers in love they once were.
That’s how they felt every day for the first five years of their marriage. Then Mick developed Wegener’s disease.
“I was still working, selling heavy equipment, when I became sick in 1995,” he says. “Wegener’s is a rare vascular disease that attacks the kidneys. I had gotten sick and lost 40 pounds, and my red blood cell count had gotten so low.
“Most people die before they find out what they’re really going through,” he says. “But chemo knocked it down and I’ve lived with this for 12 years, taking drugs and getting treatment and being weak and bedridden so much of the time.”
REASON TO LIVE
Mick says Charlene’s love motivated him to fight to stay alive.
“She’s the reason I was able to get through it,” he says. “She studied the disease and worked with doctors. I’ve got a brother six years older who has the disease, and he’s on dialysis. But I was lucky, because I wasn’t on dialysis and I was good transplant candidate.”
Charlene recalls dismissing the opinion of Mick’s doctor.
“His doctor thought he’d be dead by now,” she says. “He’s battled this disease really well.”
Until Mick’s health deteriorated significantly early last year, he resisted having Charlene provide one of her kidneys, since he did not require dialysis. But Charlene said she felt there was no longer any option but to give him a kidney.
“Fortunately, I’m a universal blood donor, Type O positive, and I was considered a good match,” she says. “There was no doubt in my mind and my heart that I had to do it.”
If Valentine’s Day has extra meaning this year — and it does — the couple says it’s not only about them.
“We want people to know about all the possibilities,” Mick says. “There are so many people waiting on transplant lists. I’m such a lucky one. We want our experience to help others in any way it can.”
“We want people to know the donation list is out there,” Charlene says. “Why not say you’ve given something of yourself, literally?”
Mick and Charlene grew up in the 1950s in Snohomish County, near the Edmonds-Lynnwood line.
“I remember the first day I ever saw Mick,” Charlene says. “It was third grade and I was a new kid in the neighborhood, and Mick was with all these ragamuffin boys. He tripped me on the school bus and my books went flying every which way! I was totally embarrassed my first day of school.”
“Oh, that’s what she says,” Mick says with a wink. “I didn’t really trip her.”
Charlene was a tomboy and had plenty of childhood fun with Mick and “his little band of ruffians” until he moved away for a few years.
“Then he came back when I was about 12,” she says. “I’m starting to look at boys and what do I see but this great-looking boy in my own neighborhood! And I already knew him. There was this apple tree we could sit under. Mick was my first kiss.”
Charlene, though, couldn’t get her father to approve of Mick, who liked doing mechanical work. She recalls how much she cried when her father forced a breakup around the time she entered high school.
“You respected your parents in those days,” she says. “If parents set a rule down, you needed to follow that rule.”
After they eventually married other people, they made no effort to see each other.
“I saw Mick once in all those years,” Charlene says. “I was in the grocery store and my hair was in rollers! I got out of there as fast as I could without him seeing me.”
When they did start dating again in their 40s, they said their children understood and accepted the relationship. Between them, their first marriages produced six children, and they have seven grandchildren.
Now, more than anything else, they’re hoping they live long enough to attend the weddings of their grandchildren.
After all, they do know a little something about true love.