For five years, Debbie Williams waited for a kidney transplant, never knowing when or whether her phone would ring with news that the next kidney was hers. On Sunday, she got the call -- and a new kidney -- but not without key assists from the Blizzard of 2003 and a resilient public transportation system.
The kidney initially was headed for Tampa and a woman whose blood type and tissue had registered a "perfect match" with that of the donor, who had died in the Philadelphia area, according to Howard Nathan, executive director of the Gift of Life Donor Program, the region's coordinator for organ donations.
Nathan said that his staff had tried for 10 hours to fly the organ to Tampa but that all flights to Florida from Philadelphia and Newark had been canceled because of the snow.
So his group searched a registry of 2,600 kidney patients in the Philadelphia area for the person with the longest waiting time and compatible tissue and blood types. Williams came out on top.
The 38-year-old mother of three, who also is rearing two nieces and a grandchild, got the call at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Then all she had to do was get to Hahnemann University Hospital in a blizzard. With snow already a foot deep on her West Philadelphia street, taxi companies told her they couldn't make it. So she did what any veteran urban dweller would do: She walked three blocks to the trolley.
"I had to step really high. The snow was up to my knees," a petite and cheerful Williams said from her hospital room today.
The trolley came within 20 minutes, almost on schedule, and she rode it to the subway, which also came within minutes. She got off at Broad and Vine, only steps from Hahnemann, where her new kidney was waiting.
She said she planned to treat herself to a taxi ride home.
-- Dale Russakoff