(Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)
Buffalo Island Central High School Principal Homer Craig is back on the job after a successfully transplanted kidney, donated by staff member Deb Dunigan.
After 12 years of doctors' care for his polysistic kidney disease, Craig's condition worsened last year to requiring dialysis four times a day. He walked across the BIC campus parking lot to his nearby home for the treatments, then return to his office afterwards.
"My friends at BIC had watched my kidney condition worsen, to the point it was becoming life threatening," Craig said. "Several staff members willingly consented to be tested as kidney donors. Most could not qualify, due to their own health conditions. BIC Migrant Aide Deb Dunigan was approved as a donor and didn't flinch with her commitment to follow through."
Tears welled up in Craig and Dunigan's eyes as they spoke about the decision last week.
"Deb gave me back my life," Craig said. "And I will be forever grateful."
"Homer's wife Kay was my inspiration to be a donor," Dunigan said. "Seven years ago she donated one of her kidneys to Homer's sister, Freida Williams. I thought that was a wonderful thing to do. Kay recovered so quickly and was back at work in just a short time."
Kay Craig is also a teacher at BIC High School. Knowing the inheritant history of her husband Homer's family, Kay sought to be a donor for his sister Freida, who was on dialysis.
"We had gone to a family reunion and I was saddened to see that Freida could not even pick up her grandson," Kay Craig said. "I wanted to donate a kidney to her so she could be a part of his life. It was reward enough to me to see her be able to be healthy and carry her grandson around and love on him like she wanted to."
"At school I had watched Homer grow weaker and weaker, and unable to do the things he enjoyed so much," Dunigan said. "He has meant so much to me and my family through his past 16 years at BIC. He was a high school principal for three of my children, and a dear friend and co-worker with me and my husband Eddie. I felt completely confident that what I was doing was right, and I felt good about it."
Deb and Eddie Dunigan have four children of their own, Tommy, Johnny, Leah Gathright, and Rachel. They have three grandchildren and one on the way. Eddie and Leah are also teachers at BIC.
"With my children and grandchildren, I knew how much it meant to be alive and healthy and be active in their lives," Dunigan said. "First I talked to my husband and children about being a donor, and they all supported me. I was hesitant to tell my mother until just before the surgery was scheduled, as I knew she would be especially worried. Homer is very important to me and all my family. Knowing the kidney would make a difference in Homer's life pleased them also. The whole family was in on this."
There were 11 children in Homer Craig's family, five of which are still living. The siblings include Clifford, Rina, Louise, Pete, Jewell, George, Earlene, Bill, Clifford, Larry, and Freida.
"Louise, Bill, Larry, Freida and I have all received kidney transplants," Homer said. "We all inherited polysistic kidney disease from our mother Zelphia's side of the family. All of us have been tested for the kidney disease, except Clifford, and he just doesn't want to know. Most of my nieces and nephews were also tested after they became adults."
Craig's surgery took place at the Methodist Hospital Transplant Center, in Memphis, on Dec. 19, 2006. He had both of his dysfunctional kidneys removed during the surgery and together they weighed 15 pounds. Two feet of his lower intestine was also removed due to the onset of diverticulitis.
Dunigan was up and around in half a day after surgery but Craig was hospitalized for nine days with complications from the intestinal portion.
"When Homer was so sick after surgery, Deb was very concerned," Kay Craig said. "She told me she was afraid she had killed him by giving him her kidney. I never knew how deeply donors felt for the recipients' health and welfare, until then. When you give someone a part of you, hoping to save their lives, it becomes personal and you can't help but worry about the outcome. When I donated my kidney to Freida, she recovered so quickly, I never experienced that phase of concern.
"I do know how close donors and recipients become, however," she said. "Frieda is like a sister to me, instead of a sister-in-law. Every January she sends me a large bouquet of roses, thanking me for my gift to her. We have always been close, but even closer now."
After Homer Craig's recovery and return to BIC, his friends and co-workers have passed along several good-humored quotes and prophesies about him having a female kidney.
"They bought me a pink shirt to wear when I got back to school," Craig said. "I have never had a pink shirt, but I am glad to wear this one. On my desk I have a whole folder full of funny things I have been told since my surgery. It seems everyone has saved up something humorous to tell me. They evidentially had a lot of time on their hands while I was gone to think about this. Many of the things are hilarious, and I can see the twinkle in their eyes as they are about to deliver a new one."
Deb Dunigan is naturally a happy person, prone to break out in laughter or a soft giggle at the slightest hint of humor. Homer Craig on the other hand is quite sober and serious, traits much needed for the great responsibility of being a high school principal.
"People keep watching me to see if I am starting to giggle and laugh unexpectedly, like Deb," Craig said. "They are always trying to make this connection with my new female kidney. I could sure use some of Deb's light heartidness and positive attitude, so I don't mind at all."
A common belief about people dealing with sickness and near death is they grow closer to each other. The BIC faculty and staff, and the Craig and Dunigan families are living proof of this. It is hard to see where one family leaves off and the other begins.