Meg Farris / Medical Reporter
When we first brought you the story of identical twins with a genetic disorder, complete strangers called wanting to help by donating a kidney.
But at the time doctors did not know if one of the twins was strong enough to go through transplant surgery.
They grew up in New Orleans as the Watkins twins. And in 1998 they told their story about being diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease when they were in college at LSU.
"He (the doctor) called me in with my mom and dad to tell us the bad news, that we had lupus," said Lois Smitherman in 1998.
Lupus causes your immune system, which normally attacks invading germs, to attack organs and joints in your own body. Doctors thought the twins only had a few years to live, but with no major organ damage, they went on to live normal lives.
But in January, Smitherman and her twin Lynn Watkins, gave us a sad update. Smitherman had been living in Texas with her husband and two children, but Watkins was back in New Orleans going through the loss of everything from Hurricane Katrina, a major surgery, a serious knee injury, and a failed relationship that caused the loss of her health insurance. All of those stressful events caused her lupus to flare up and destroy her kidneys. Now she spends many days a week for hours on end in dialysis.
Complete strangers called to say they wanted to donate a kidney to Watkins, but there were questions about whether she would be strong enough to go through surgery. After many tests on Watkins' heart, there was good news and bad news.
The good news is that Tulane has added her to the kidney transplant list so that when a living or deceased donor is available, the operation can go forward.
The bad news is even though Smitherman is an identical match, doctors say she can not donate since she has lupus and may need both of her kidneys.
"That's the hardest thing for us right now is that I really think that I could save her life quickly," said Smitherman.
Watkins is touched that friends and even strangers want to help.
"It's very humbling. It's humbling to have your sister, or anyone, actually have five living donors willing to be tested which makes me very, it's so much easier to give than it is to receive and I laugh and say, 'How do you write a thank you note for that.' I mean what to you say to someone that and how are you worthy enough for someone to put themselves in jeopardy for you like that," said Watkins with tears in her eyes.
Smitherman's son, Watkins' nephew at LSU summed it up best in an e-mail.
Dear Readers, Recently my Aunt Lynn (I call her Tee) was added to the Tulane organ recipient list, and now our family is praying for the match that will save her life. I thought it would be nice to share with you what my aunt means to me. Tee is like a second mother to me, and since she is my mother’s identical twin that is both literal and figurative. She has always been someone who would be there for me no matter what I needed. Two years ago I became even more blessed when I moved 466 miles from Fort Worth, Texas to attend LSU. Now I’m only an hour from the city I love, and the woman who loves me more than I could ever imagine. My one wish is that my future children will be able experience at least half the love she has shown me over the last twenty years.
I believe that New Orleans is home to many more Saints than the ones who play on Sunday night. The Saints of New Orleans are everyday people who have a sense of community that is unequaled anywhere else in the country. I am humbled by the support that has been given to my family while my aunt has been sick, and thank God everyday that she lives in such a supportive place. I urge everyone to consider donation. No one could ever give a more precious gift than life to both an individual and a family. Thank you again for all of your support and God bless.
Sincerely, Eben Smitherman