Donna Siler gives the gift of life

Janet Rail

Donna Siler gives the gift of life

Staff Photo by Janet Rail

By Janet Rail


Most people know Donna Ayers Siler by her warm and genuine smile, but those of us who know her best see one of the kindest hearts in the world.

Donna is a twin to Wanda Ayers Crider and on Thursday will give her kidney to her nephew Zak Crider, her twin’s son.

This is a story of unconditional love that began long ago. When I moved to McNairy County, my family visited churches and decided to make Antioch Church of Christ our home.

Wanda and Donna Ayers were two of the first people I met and we developed a friendship that would last forever. In fact, the membership at this congregation was our extended family.

No one could deny the love and compassion the entire Ayers clan had for one another, it was contagious, and continues today.

A year ago, in October 2010, Zak Crider had symptoms of a sore throat and upper respiratory infection, so the doctor thought. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he was hospitalized presenting with right flank pain, an elevated blood pressure, a creatinine level that was extremely elevated and protein in his urine to name a few.

On his third day in the hospital they completed a biopsy of his kidney which showed necrotic tissue and lead to a diagnosis of rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis or commonly called IgA neuropathy.

IgA is a kidney disorder that occurs when IgA –a protein that helps the body fight infections – settles in the kidneys.

Untreated strep throat can cause the body to produce too much IgA and attack the kidneys and so Zak’s early symptoms did not appear to be that serious, according to Wanda.

Zak was admitted to rule out dehydration but within a few days had lost significant kidney function and by mid October was on dialysis.

Dialysis is a procedure that performs many of the normal duties of the kidneys, like filtering waste products from the blood when the kidneys no longer function. Zak had hemodialysis which is performed an average of three times a week for approximately four hours each treatment.

That is when the Ayers clan got into some serious action to find a donor. The family is working with the Vanderbilt Transplant Center in Nashville.

Vanderbilt is one of the south’s main providers of solid organ and stem cell transplantation. The transplant center is part of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University campus which was organized over twenty years ago by Dr. William H. Frist.

Vanderbilt performed its first kidney transplant in 1962 and is one of the oldest, largest transplant programs in the U.S. to date and has performed over 3,500 adult and pediatric kidney transplants.

Zak’s grandparents Wallace and Shirley Ayers of Ramer, had seven children, three girls and four boys. This large family has many members now, and 10 to 12 close family members and friends were among the first to volunteer as a potential donors.

Paul Ayers, a first cousin, was the first to match, but during a scan of his kidney the transplant doctors felt that his blood vessels were so much larger than Zak’s that he was not the best match.

The second to match was Kim Ayers, an aunt by marriage. During her testing it was determined that she had some elevations in blood pressure which she was not aware of but prevented her from being a good match.

The third time was charm as Donna matched. Her testing began in June and continued to her final series of testing on November 22 for both she and Zak prior to their scheduled transplant on Dec. 1.

“I haven’t been a bit nervous. I want Zak to have a kidney so bad and have been praying it would happen. Wanda and I are twins and it just seems right,” said Donna.

“Wanda is probably the most generous person I have ever known. She could not be a donor but I can. There are a lot of other people in the family that were ready to go to donate for Zak also,” said Donna.

Donna shared the fact that there are so many families out their searching for donors that do not have such luck with potential matches. “This is what we have waited on so long and it is now going to happen,” said Donna.

Many family members are making plans to travel to Vanderbilt for the surgery. “We are beyond words as Donna is an absolute angel. She has never said one negative statement. I know it has been a struggle for her as they have a very high standard for donors,” said Wanda.

Zak is now 23 and shared how much he looks forward to the surgery. “It is hard to put into words what this gift means to me. For anybody to go through this, it is not fun, but for someone to put themselves on the line for someone else is such a wonderful thing. This is mom’s twin sister and it is a wonderful gift,” said Zak.

Zak will be under the care of Dr. David Shaffer, an internationally known transplant surgeon and Donna Dr. Douglas Hale, transplant surgeon this Thursday with a patient survival rate of 98.1% in kidney transplantation.

Donna is a retired teacher from Bethel Elementary School and lives with her husband Nelson Siler in Bethel Springs. Wanda, Donnie and Zak Crider reside in Atwood, Tenn. where Zak was a previous student and plans to pursue a degree in graphic design.

The future is bright due to the unconditional love demonstrated by many members of the Ayers and extended family and friends making a sacrifice to save a loved one.