With the gift of a kidney, Madison coworkers become linked for life

When Rachel Harrelson and Julie Patterson began working together in 2020 at Madison, Georgia, dental practice, they got off to a bit of a rocky start.

It was about Rachel.

"I could not, for the life of me, remember her name," Julie Patterson laughs.

"So, she started calling me ‘Angela,’" Rachel Harrelson says.

"I literally called her Angela for 6 to 9 months," Patterson says.

It became a running joke between the dental hygienist and dental assistant.

Then, in December 2021, Patterson, who was born with the common kidney disorder, IgA nephropathy, which had been slowly destroying her kidneys, learned she was in advanced kidney failure.

"So, that was scary," Patterson says. "All they kept saying was, ‘We would love to find you a kidney before you need dialysis.’"

Julie got the call she had been placed on a waiting list for donor kidney the day of their office Christmas party.

That night, her coworker heard the news.

"I just prayed about it for a while," Harrelson says. "And, it just, I don’t know. I was just very calm and peaceful about it."

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Rachel Harrelson and Julie Patterson are more than just coworkers. They share a special bond.  (FOX 5)

After the holidays, Patterson and her husband started making plans.

"I was so naive going into this whole transplant process," she says.

They had a vacation planned in June.

So, Julie figured, she’d have her transplant at Piedmont Transplant Institute in July.

"Then, we get in there and go to the first class that they ask you to attend, and we hear in that class that the average wait in Georgia for a kidney is 4 to 5 years," she says. "So, that was a huge shock to us."

Dr. Clark Kensinger, surgical director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Division at Piedmont Transplant Institute, says they encourage patients to try to find a living kidney donor.

"And, to do that, they need to just believe in their story, tell their story and champion themselves," Dr. Kensinger says.  "That’s the most important message here is that there are people out there who want to save people’s lives and all it needs to take is the recipient or the patient telling their story and having a connection through a donor."  

So, in early April, Julie Patterson posted the biggest ask of her life on Facebook.

"People started calling in to be tested," Patterson says.  "I was not on dialysis yet, but I was not far from needing it".

And that’s when Rachel Harrelson made her decision.

She would get tested, to see if she might be a match for her coworker.

"It was just in my heart, just to go ahead and do it," Harrelson says.

After months of testing, she and a coworker showed up at Julie’s door with a cake, it said, "take my spare."

"She said,  ‘Julie, I’m a perfect match,’" Patterson remembers.

October 2022, in back-to-back surgeries at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, Rachel gave one of her two healthy kidneys to Julie.

That is when they decided their shared spare needed a name.

So, we call the kidney "Angela," Patterson laughs. "So, Angela is doing well and we both are doing well."

Patterson says she will be forever grateful for Harrelson.

"She’s my hero," she says. "She saved my life."