"This is what the world is about. Family. We need to stick together. She saved my life," Mylaen Merthe said of her "kidney sister."
On the 10-year anniversary of her first date with Jim Merthe, Debby Neal-Strickland put on a cream-hued lace gown and exchanged marital vows with him at their Florida church. Two days later, a hospital gown replaced her wedding gown as she prepared to donate a kidney to Merthe's ex-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," the 56-year-old told Good Morning America. "She’s also the mother of my guy's kids and they were having their first two grandchildren."
New bride donates kidney to husband's ex-wife just days after wedding https://t.co/0WcZsBxiF7— WGN TV News (@WGNNews) June 1, 2021
Mylaen had been struggling with kidney disease for over 30 years. According to Associated Press, it had gotten so bad by last year, that the 59-year-old was ghostly pale with dark circles under her eyes and dragging herself through the workday with little to no energy as her kidney functioning dropped to 8%. Although her brother had offered to donate a kidney, tests revealed that he wasn't a match. Then, Neal-Strickland stepped up. "I just knew that was what I was supposed to do," she said. Having already been through an emotional rollercoaster while waiting on her brother's results, Mylaen was initially hesitant to get her hopes up. "I was afraid about if she didn't pass," she said.
New bride donates kidney to husband's ex-wife: 'Did it from her heart' https://t.co/LqwDtqBTFh pic.twitter.com/YLE9mseJzd— Andy Vermaut (@AndyVermaut) June 1, 2021
Neal-Strickland's blood and tissue testing came back positive and she then moved on to further testing like collecting urine samples in a jug for 24 hours. One by one, all of her tests were positive. "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." The Merthes have been divorced for nearly two decades, but they got along well as they raised their two children. When Neal-Strickland came into the picture, she and Mylaen shared a cordial relationship, though not especially close.
Florida newlyweds are reminding people of the importance of family after the bride donated her kidney to her new husband’s ex-wife. https://t.co/4XcyfO9lQ8— KYW Newsradio - NOW ON 103.9 FM! (@KYWNewsradio) June 13, 2021
That changed with the kidney donation. "[We] usually text every single day. We talk quite a bit. We call ourselves kidney sisters," Neal-Strickland said. "The doctors couldn’t even believe what a close match we were. They thought we were such a close match that it was unbelievable. So I just feel like that was God's intention -- that it was my destiny." She explained that she knew Mylaen was about to become a grandmother for the first time and imagined her daughter giving birth, "and her mom not being there. I just couldn't not try to change that. God told me, 'You're a match and you need to do this.'"
On November 22 Debby Neal-Strickland and Jim Strickland were celebrating getting married. Two days later Debby was in a hospital gown donating her kidney to her new husband’s ex-wife Mylaen. >> https://t.co/Se8iu0tuXl— WTVY News 4 (@WTVYNews4) June 19, 2021
Neal-Strickland also had another reason for wanting to help Mylaen. She had known for a long time that she wanted to be an organ donor as her brother had died 26 years ago of cystic fibrosis while waiting on a double lung transplant. Although she had wanted to donate one of her lungs at the time, they weren't a match. "I would have given him one but that wasn't going to be enough," she said. "So I just figured at some point in my life I was going to give an organ."
Florida woman donates kidney to husband’s ex-wife https://t.co/vBUKjYOqrp— Top Most Popular News (@TPM_NEWS) June 20, 2021
Neal-Strickland and Merthe tied the knot on November 22. "It was the most amazing day of my life, until two days later. That was also the most amazing day of my life," she said. As soon as they regained consciousness, the two women were pleading with nurses to let them meet. Although COVID-19 protocols were strict, Merthe was eventually allowed to wheel his new wife into his ex-wife's room. "We had our masks on too, so we're crying, and of course our stomachs were hurting because of the incisions," Mylaen said. "We kinda laughed and cried."
Just two days after she’d taken her vows, Debby Neal-Strickland in Florida swapped her wedding dress for a hospital gown in order to donate a desperately needed kidney. The lucky recipient? Her brand-new husband’s former wife.#SpreadLoveLikeButter💛https://t.co/QBC6v0QMRA— 👑PrincezzP👑 (@juslilmissp) June 17, 2021
Neal-Strickland said she could already see the difference in Mylaen as the circles under her eyes were gone and "she looked so alive and revitalized." Once she was deemed fit to leave the hospital, Mylaen moved in with her daughter, son-in-law, and new baby Jackson to recuperate. "I got to hold him and feed him," said Mylaen, who welcomed a second grandson in March. "I was like, 'I'm actually here to see this and I'm holding this little baby.' This is what the world is about. Family. We need to stick together. She saved my life."