Timothy Chambers didn’t have to live long with his guilt.
It was mid-October, and Chambers, the director of Lincoln University’s Orange Crush marching band, had just undergone a life-saving kidney transplant, ending seven years of doctor visits and 12 hours of weekly dialysis treatment.
“I should have been a happy man, and I was, but I also felt … guilt,” Chambers said.
While his quest for a new kidney had ended, his wife of 24 years, Reachell, who suffered kidney failure 18 years ago because she has lupus, still was hoping for a transplant. The 53-year-old had come close in the past, but other health issues prevented the transplant.
“All these years she suffered with it before me. You think, ‘what are the chances that both of us would wind up with the same condition?’” asked Timothy, 56. “I felt guilty knowing that she had waited almost three times as long as I did. But when I started to talk like that she would stop me. Her whole thing was to keep praying.”
There are about 93,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list, and that number is expected to soon exceed 100,000, according to the Living Kidney Donor Network. About 35 percent of the people on the list are African Americans.
The wait for a deceased donor can be five to 10 years, and sometimes longer, the network reports. The longer someone is on the list, the lower their chances of getting a kidney.
Timothy and Reachell Chambers kept praying. And at the end of October, their prayers were answered.
Timothy had just finished a post-operative visit connected to his Oct. 13 surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore when his cellphone rang.
It was the transplant coordinator from the hospital with the news that a matching kidney had been found for for his wife. Wherever they were (they hadn’t even left the hospital campus), they were told to come back immediately. The hospital had a kidney for Reachell. Nurses needed to do blood tests and X-rays of Reachell, and surgery was scheduled for the next day.
“It’s highly unusual” for both a husband and wife to be able to get kidneys so close together in time, said Harvey Mysel, founder and president of the Living Kidney Donor Network.
“People have been telling us that this is amazing,” Reachell said. “But I’m quick to tell them that this was a gift from God and nothing else.”
“It couldn’t have happened for two better people. Both of them have giving hearts and have poured into our students since Mr. Chambers’ arrival in 2016,” said Patricia P. Ramsey, Lincoln University provost and vice president for academic affairs.
This past Thursday, Timothy made a triumphant return to Lincoln and directed the band at its annual holiday concert.
“It is going to be a special moment for me and my wife,” he said earlier that week. “We’ve been through a lot together. She has been my hero because of what she’s been through. All the time pushing me and encouraging me. To get to this point where we both can celebrate together is really hard to put into words.”
Next year, the Chambers, who live in Elkton, Md., will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
Their story is one of supporting each other in sickness and health, while traveling wherever Timothy’s career has led them.
Among other stops, Timothy has been the band leader at Kentucky State and Delaware State up until 2012 when his illness forced him to leave. He joined Lincoln after being out of work for four years. His wife joined him at the university — as an executive assistant in academic affairs and unofficial “band mom” — a year later.
“We’ve been through a lot of highs, lows, a lot of challenges together,” Reachell said. “But through it all our faith has been made stronger. All you can really says is, ‘God, thank you.’”