Two years ago, Mary Hodges was lying by her husband’s hospital bed.
The Endeavor Flight Attendant had just found out the news that her husband, David, had a tumor in his left frontal lobe and was soon diagnosed with brain cancer.
“The only symptom he had was that his hand didn’t work. I had run him a hot bath, and I made a joke and he started laughing – and that laugh turned into a seizure,” Mary said.
As Mary was lying next to her husband, all she could do was pray and have hope.
“Any type of cancer is horrifying, so it was so traumatizing that I lost my ability to speak,” Mary said. “I could still pray, so I just asked God for hope and I felt like God said, ‘I’m going to give you time with your husband, and in return when the time is right, you’re going to give someone else time. You’ll know that time is right when you get a long leave from work.’”
Mary was determined to keep her promise whenever the time came. As David recovered from the initial surgery and was on short-term disability, Mary focused on supporting her family.
“As my husband recovered, I worked my butt off and lost 65 pounds in three months, so I could fit in the jump seat and provide for my family,” Hodges said.
The then stay-at-home mom traveled to New York City and interviewed with Endeavor for a flight attendant position.
“I wanted to be able to fly him anywhere, if anything came up. I thought I would never be able to get a position since I was a stay-at-home mom. But Endeavor loved that, and gave me a chance,” Mary said.
David endured several months of radiation and one year of chemotherapy. He then became a stay-at-home dad and took care of their three little kids.
Mary was soon hired at Endeavor, and based in Atlanta. She was busy balancing her family and flying for Endeavor. She thought her time to help someone else was much further down the road.
But when COVID-19 began to escalate in the U.S. in March 2020, Endeavor encouraged employees to take a voluntarily leave of absence (VLOA) if they were able. Mary was soon approved for a leave of absence, and realized the time was right.
“I said ‘now God, this is exactly what you said.’ Nobody could’ve predicted COVID. When I started at Endeavor, I thought I wouldn’t get much time off. But when COVID happened, I realized it was time,” Mary said.
During the VLOA, Mary signed up to become an altruistic donor – one who wishes to donate a kidney but who has no intended recipients. She started the initial tests to donate a kidney which included many surveys and lab tests. Once Mary passed the first round of tests and they accepted her into the kidney registry for further testing, she called her IFS Base Manager, Lynn Greubel, in Atlanta.
“I just wanted to be upfront. I had no idea since I’ve never donated anything, but I told her that I’m in the process, and I don’t know what that is going to require of me,” Mary said. “I was completely shocked that she was onboard and even wanted updates.”
Lynn was blown away by Mary’s sacrifice and remained by her side throughout the entire process.
“When she told me she was thinking about doing this, she said, ‘I was able to have additional time with my husband, so my only hope this that someone is sitting around the table spending Christmas with their family because of me.’ She is an extraordinary individual,” Lynn said.
Mary continued the extensive testing for the registry, as her medical team investigated in possible health complications and confirmed the remaining kidney would sustain life, once the first is removed.
After passing the remaining tests at the end of November, Mary remained in the registry for a short 18 hours before they found her match. She was prepared to undergo surgery, but the recipient’s medical team quickly reached out.
“I did accidentally find out that my recipient was a boy. I was planning on the initial surgery date, but his medical team asked if there was anyway I would agree to a later date, so he could finish school,” Mary said.
Mary patiently waited for the next date and underwent surgery at the end of December. The surgery was a success and she was on her way to recovery.
“Funnily enough, after it was removed, my kidney flew Delta,” Mary exclaimed.
After surgery, Mary joined a Facebook group consisting of other kidney donors. She quickly realized that she was not aware of the biggest side effect, which is extreme exhaustion. But Mary remained positive and put a dash of humor into her recovery.
“It felt like I had been stabbed and robbed in an alley – like something stole my kidney and left,” Mary joked. “You can’t lift more to 10 pounds for the first six weeks, so I really loved that excuse to not bring in groceries.”
Throughout her recovery, Mary’s family, friends and her manager Lynn, supported her.
“I was honored that Mary let me share the entire walk with her. She kept me updated step by step and I felt like I couldn’t be more proud of this selfless act of love,” Lynn said.
After Mary’s kidney donation, her doctor told her that she set off a donation chain.
Mary explained that after someone signs up to donate, they receive a voucher that would bump someone in need to the top of the recipient list. Many people will show up to donate for their loved ones, so if they’re not a match, they’ll donate to a stranger instead, and give their loved one the voucher that would bump them to the top of the recipient list. Since Mary was an altruistic donor, this put a twist in the donation plans, and the donation line quickly blossomed.
“Apparently four to five donations happened because of mine, so it winds up being a beautiful thing just because of that one initial donation,” Mary said.
After one year, Mary’s kidney recipient can choose to reach out and communicate with her, if he wishes. But most altruistic donors never hear from their recipient.
“To me, I just wanted to be honorable to God. He gave this amazing time with my husband. He has given me the most beautiful two years, and my kids have had a wonderful time with my husband at home. I just wanted to honor what I’ve been given.”
“But I really hope that I do get to meet my recipient personally, because there’s always that curiosity. I hope to get the update that he is thriving and I hope he will have this kidney for 20 plus years,” Mary said.
Mary is very thankful for her family’s health, as David’s scans remain clear to this day. He also recently accepted a job in the field he received his degree in.
“If I’m ever blessed that my recipient does want to meet up, I would love for Lynn to go with me. I just want her to see what her support did,” Mary said.