Sharon and Steve McNally of New Bern have been married for more than 40 years. Now, Steve carries a little piece of his wife Sharon with him everywhere he goes.
Steve is diabetic and in 2015, he went through his first round of transplants at a hospital in their then-home state of Pennsylvania.
“It was supposed to have been a kidney and pancreas at the same time,” Steve said. “When they got me on the operating table, the pancreas wasn’t viable. So they said, ‘We’re going to do the kidney alone and we’ll get you a pancreas.’ What happened then was the hospital eventually became decertified and couldn’t do pancreas transplants anymore.”
Then, they joined the transplant list with a health system in Maryland and Steve received a pancreas transplant 30 days later. In the meantime, the new kidney had been damaged due to the lack of a functioning pancreas, but Steve said it was largely working fine until mid-2023. By that time, the McNallys had moved from Pennsylvania down to New Bern.
With Steve’s kidney function worsening, there was little time to spare. He could join another transplant list that may take eight to 10 years to find a donor, start dialysis or personally find a match to donate a kidney.
Sharon said she knew she had to step up for her husband and get tested to see if she could be a match.
“It wasn’t really hard for me because a lot of people say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so amazing’ or so this and that but I don’t really feel that way,” Sharon said. “I feel like we’ve been married 40 plus years. We have grandkids and kids together and how could you watch someone get more and more ill and not do something if you can? So I didn’t really think about it.”
Testing started for the two in June and preparation began right away. They found out in October they were a match and an ECU Health team performed the transplant on Nov. 7.
“I’m glad that this was something I could do,” Sharon said. “There’s a lot of people that probably couldn’t have, even if they wanted to.”
For Sharon’s part, she went home the next day while Steve stayed a couple extra days for monitoring before heading home. While they each needed some help early on after coming home, they were both happy to support each other, as they’ve been doing for more than four decades.
Dr. Margaret Romine, transplant surgeon at ECU Health, and Dr. David Leeser performed the transplant along with other members of the ECU Health transplant team. She said she was most proud that the team could take on a case like the McNallys, especially given Steve had been through a kidney and pancreas transplant previously.
“They had already been through a lot before even coming to us but they had such great attitudes and were great patients to care for,” Dr. Romine said. “We have such a great team and that really sets us apart from other programs. It’s not just about what the surgeon thinks – the nephrologists play a huge role. Our coordinators, nurses, pharmacists, social workers all play a huge role. We can’t do what we do without the entire team. Whenever we make a big decision to take on a patient like him, it’s done as a team.”
Steve and Sharon both said they were happy with their experience at ECU Health and shared appreciation for the care team that helped guide them through the process and into recovery.
Now, they are looking forward to a spring working outdoors, something they both love but missed out on last year.
Sharon said if she could share one message, it would be on the importance of organ donation.
“Organ donation is just such a wonderful thing. I mean, three different times it saved my husband,” Sharon said. “You know, a lot of people don’t want to do something like that even after they’re gone because it just it seems weird to them. But honestly, I think it’s a wonderful thing.”