By Jessica Brodie
On the final day of Annual Conference, as South Carolina United Methodists were gearing up for a new year in the life of the church, one woman was waking up in a hospital bed, thanking God for a new lease on life.
On June 7, Stephanie Ponds Henry—health benefits specialist for the annual conference—and her husband, Sharome, got the answer to a prayer they’d had since 2019, when Henry discovered she had Stage 4 kidney disease.
Henry got a healthy kidney, courtesy of an organ transplant.
Six weeks after the successful operation, she’s praising Jesus and looking forward to her next chapter, free from dialysis and with plenty of energy to advocate for others walking the road she’s now departed. If her doctor clears it, she hopes to return to work Aug. 1.
“I am good!” Henry laughs as she recounts her progress since the emergency drive to Charleston in early June, after she got the call she’d been awaiting. In many ways, she said, it was like having a baby. It’s taken about six weeks of recovery, but she’s hydrating, eating healthily, getting enough rest and having regular checkups.
She’s feeling grateful—and blessed.
The events almost feel surreal. Henry had been at Annual Conference with her husband, adult daughter and grandbaby, singing with joy during the evening worship service. After, they went to a late dinner with a pastor-friend from the Rock Hill District.
That’s when she got the call that would change her life forever.
It was the hospital, calling to let her know there was a potential kidney. She had received two calls like this before, but this time was different. The hospital said there were two kidneys potentially available—and Henry was No. 2 on the list.
“Just keep your phone volume up and stay by the phone,” she was instructed.
After prayer and an anointing with holy oil, the Henrys retreated to their hotel room.
Then, at 4:08 a.m., she got the call she’d been praying for: “Can you get here by 6:30?” the woman asked her.
They rushed to pack and get their car loaded, alternating between rushing around, crying tears of joy and praising God. It was so early the windshield wasn’t fully defrosted, and in their haste, her husband ran over a curb pulling out of the parking lot and flattened two tires.
“He was so upset,” Henry recalled.
But the Rev. Mel Arant—her husband’s boss and director of Clergy Services—offered up his truck for them to drive to Charleston.
The drive was a blur.
“We were speeding, of course, with our hazards on,” Henry said. “We had a two-hour window to get there, and it was a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Florence to Charleston.”
But they listened to gospel music all the way down, nervous and happy, and by God’s providence, made it to the hospital at 6:33 a.m., just in time.
Henry was fearful of the surgery. The last time she’d had an operation was two decades ago, when she had a caesarean section giving birth to her daughter. But all the staff was kind and reassuring. During preparation for the surgery, she saw a younger Hispanic woman and an older man. Later, she found out all of them got organs from the same donor, a 15-year-old girl who’d passed away earlier that evening.
Her kidney arrived on a helicopter from Charlotte, and it was a perfect match.
“It’s bittersweet,” Henry said, knowing someone lost a child, yet that child had the thoughtfulness and generosity to take steps to become an organ donor before her death. “No teenager thinks like that. They usually just think, ‘I want to get my permit or my license’ and that’s it, so the fact that this young lady was mature enough and caring enough to say, ‘I want to be a donor,’ I feel as though aside from making sure I am doing everything I can for myself and my family, I want to take care of my kidney to the best of my ability because she sacrificed her life.”
‘God is in the middle’
Henry’s recovery has been surprisingly fast. She was out of bed by the second day, and by the fourth day she was making TikTok videos.
“With a deceased donor kidney, it can take a while for the kidney to wake up, but luckily, no extra dialysis was necessary,” she said. “It was awake.”
After a week of checkups, Henry has been recovering at home, and her doctor reports that she is “healing great.”
“I will be on medicine the rest of life so my body doesn’t reject it as a foreign body, which is normal with a transplant. But I had my stent removal last week, and one doctor said he’s never seen numbers so good from a transplant patient right after surgery. Mine took a week! That’s how I know God is in the middle of all of this.”
Her theme verse is Romans 8:28, which she’s been able to experience over and over during her process: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).
While she will need regular doctor visits for a while, and she has a compromised immune system because of the transplant and necessary medications, “I’ll be able to do a lot of things I was not able to do before.”
She’s especially eager to continue her work as an advocate for kidney disease and kidney failure. She and Sharome want to start a donor partnering program, and they are researching how to make this happen.
“I found out if a person doesn’t have a caregiver, they’re not even considered for a kidney transplant list, and there are so many people out there who don’t have anybody to help. They’re doing dialysis at a care center, and they’ll be on dialysis until God calls them home,” Henry said.
Henry said she is tremendously grateful for her husband, who she said hasn’t left her side during the entire experience and has been a phenomenal caregiver.
And for his part, her husband said he wants nothing more than to acknowledge the goodness of God.
“I am a barrel of mixed emotions,” he said. “I am grateful and overjoyed at what God has done! Our God is awesome. I am relieved and feel that weight lifted, and a little more free to serve.”
He said he is overjoyed and excited to see what the Lord is going to do with his wife and their family.
“We have work to do,” he said. “God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good. Thank you, Lord! All praise and glory belongs to God.”
The Henrys are hoping to start a pathway to get people to sign up to be care partners for these people so these they can get on the transplant list and have a chance at a new life. Watch the Advocate for more information on this.
“There’s a lot of work God has for me to do,” Henry said. “The fight is not over, and having this kidney gives me more strength to advocate for this disease.”