- Associated Press - Sunday, April 30, 2017

VENICE, Fla. (AP) - There are times when Christine Higbee and Zack Pacyna finish each other’s sentences - usually punctuated by a laugh or side joke - and almost always when they explain how the 45-year-old mother of seven decided to give her 26-year-old co-worker one of her kidneys.

Higbee and Pacyna, who both work at the Lowe’s just south of Venice, have known each other for about seven years. She got to know Zack because he works for her boyfriend, Rich LaVance, on the overnight shift, 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

When Pacyna switched to days, she naturally wanted to know why. She learned it was because his kidneys were failing and he was spending his nights, from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m., hooked up to a dialysis machine. He has Alport syndrome, a genetic kidney disease.

Pacyna, who lives in North Port, was diagnosed with the disease by doctors at All Children’s Hospital when he was 8 and always knew it would lead to dialysis. But his condition didn’t get really bad until May 2015, when he finally switched to days.

“It was kind of hard to sleep,” Pacyna said. “You could only sleep on one side; if you rolled over, it would crimp the line and the alarm would go off.”

Higbee quickly added: “And he came to work and never complained.”

Quietly, even before Pacyna inquired about being placed on a transplant list, Higbee started the process to become a donor.

“I said, heck, he can have one of mine,” Higbee said, with a laugh. “I have seven kids - if I need one, I can borrow one of theirs.

“That was a real legitimate reason why I would be a good candidate,” she continued, with a slightly more serious tone. “That’s always the biggest thing, if you give one of yours away, what if something happens to yours? I have seven kids; one of them would be a match. My odds are pretty good.”

And yes, many people and new co-workers joke that Higbee has eight kids, now that Pacyna has her kidney.

Seven-and-a-half, she typically responds.

‘Not a big deal’

Higbee donated her kidney to Zack last Dec. 7, at Tampa General Hospital. They’re talking about it now to raise awareness that April is National Donate Life Month.

“People need to know that it’s not a big deal,” she said.

For Lowe’s, it has been a fairly big deal. The two were featured in an internal publication that highlighted how Pacnya is barely older than the eldest of Higbee’s children and showcased another story about a Seattle, Washington, store employee who donated a kidney to a coworker.

Higbee was quick to praise coworkers who helped take her youngest children to school, or made sure she was OK while she recovered from surgery at her home in Port Charlotte.

Then again, Higbee was back to work five weeks after surgery. Pacyna only stayed at home four weeks before returning. Doctors had told them to expect a three-month recovery.

“I didn’t come back for an extra week - I was like, ‘You’re seriously going to go back to work? You’re going to make me look terrible, stop it,” Higbee said, barely controlling her laughter. “I’m going to look like such a baby.”

Since then, Pacyna is still on light duty but both are just moving on with life.

Higbee said people should not be afraid to donate an organ, if they’re able. “Think about it, everybody’s bucket list has, ‘They want to be a hero,’ or ‘They want to save somebody’s life,” she said.

Pacyna interjected, “And it’s a chance to change somebody’s life right there.”

“It’s just a surgery,” Higbee continued. “The truth is, why wouldn’t you?”


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