McCrabb: Butler County kidney transplant recipient’s message to donor’s family: ‘I love them without meeting them’

Marla Marsh, 59, a longtime educator, received a kidney transplant Oct. 24. She had been on dialysis for more than two years. SUBMITTED PHOTO

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Marla Marsh, 59, a longtime educator, received a kidney transplant Oct. 24. She had been on dialysis for more than two years. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The way Oct. 24 started for the twin Marsh sisters it’s good they weren’t part of the transplant team.

At 5:24 a.m. last Sunday, Marla Marsh’s cell phone rang. She rolled over in bed, looked at her phone and didn’t recognize the number.

The number at the UC Health Kidney Transplant Program starts with a 584 and is programed in her cell. This number didn’t match.

So she didn’t answer.

But the person called seven times in the next three minutes.

Finally, Marsh listened to the voice mail.

“Marla,” the woman said, “this is Beth.”

“I knew exactly what was up,” Marsh said.

She called back and was told by the transplant coordinator: “We got a kidney. It’s a good match. Be here by 7:10 a.m.”

For the last 745 days, Marsh, 59, a longtime Middletown City School District administrator who retired in January 2014, has connected herself to a cycler at 9 o’clock and received nine hours of home dialysis.

Her health issues began when she started retaining fluids in the summer of 2015 and she spent 42 days in the hospital after repeated tests revealed no diagnosis, she said. Eventually, she was told she had kidney failure. She was placed on the kidney transplant list in October 2019.

So on Oct. 24, Marla and her sister Monica started the drive from their Mason home to the hospital, a trip they have made 30 to 35 times for Marla’s medical appointments. Monica, the driver, admitted she sped along I-71.

In such a hurry and preoccupied with her sister’s health, Monica drive past the hospital’s exit. They took the next exit and arrived at the hospital on schedule.

Marla’s four-hour surgery started around 11:30 a.m. She was in the Intensive Care Unit that night and transferred to the regular floor the next morning. She hopes to be released from the hospital on Monday.

The lives of these sisters are about to change. For the first time in more than two years, they will be permitted to drive more than two hours from home. They’re looking forward to visiting friends in Georgia, and meeting their great niece when she’s born next month.

“Take nothing for granted,” Marla said.

Then she remembered what a relative once relayed. “We didn’t come here to stay. You got to live life to the fullest and be the best you can be.”

After the transplant, Monica, a retired educator from Butler Tech who also worked in the Middletown district for nearly half of her 30-year career, sent her sister a picture of 1,000 pounds of her medical supplies. She used 32 pounds of liquids daily during her dialysis treatments.

Marla joked with the supplies gone she will have additional closet space.

“Time to buy more clothes,” she said.

But for all of these good times to happen, someone had to die and someone had to choose to donate their organs. While that family was making funeral arrangements, the Marsh sisters were celebrating a second chance of a better life.

“That’s the tough part,” Marla said, the excitement in her voice gone. “It’s like the circle of life. You think about all the emotions that went through their minds and how that decision extended my life. I’m really grateful for them.”

She hopes to communicate with the donor’s family to express her feelings. She was asked about that message.

There was a pause on the phone. Then she answered: “I love them without meeting them.”

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