Rodney Ford’s lifelong support for donation dates back to college when as a student at the University of Oklahoma, a blood drive caught his attention and he donated blood for the first time that day. Also at University of Oklahoma, Rodney’s attention was captured by the love of his life and future wife, Syrita. He could not know then that his passion for saving lives and his love for his wife would converge in a unique way. Over the years Rodney donated blood whenever the opportunity presented itself. Meanwhile, he and Syrita raised their family, and Rodney picked up a hobby to keep in shape – he loved to ride his bike.
One day while reading the paper, Rodney came across an article that advertised a cross-country bike ride for blood donors, the Five Points of Life ride, which seemed to him like a perfect combination of two things he loved, saving lives through donation and biking. The “Five Points” in the Five Points of Life Ride stood for the ways to share life with others through the donation of whole blood – which is what most people think of when they think of blood donation, apheresis, bone marrow, cord blood, organs and tissue and the riders would advocate for donation. With a bit of reluctance, Syrita, agreed to support Rodney’s participation in one cross-country ride.
Little did Syrita know, one ride would turn into seven and take Rodney as far away as South Africa (twice) while he became more and more involved in promoting the cause of life-saving donation. He believed in donation whole heartedly; signed up on the bone marrow registry, became a registered organ, eye and tissue donor and an apheresis donor in addition to his regular whole blood donation.
In fact, training for the Five Points of Life ride actually introduced Rodney to apheresis donation – a process during which blood is collected from a blood donor with a machine that separates out certain components of the blood, and the remainder is returned to the donor. The removed components are used to treat specific conditions for patients in need. Donating whole blood during training sapped Rodney’s energy and made him feel week. Apheresis donation removed only certain blood components and returned the remainder, including the portions needed to maintain energy and strength. His journey of cross-country and international bike rides and donation advocacy lasted eleven years.
Meanwhile, with no warning or outward symptoms, Syrita’s kidneys were failing. After his last ride in 2008, Syrita asked Rodney to accompany her to a doctor’s appointment. In all of their years as a couple, Rodney had never gone with her to an appointment and the news they would receive was shocking. Simply put, Syrita was told, “You’re going to outlive your kidney.” Syrita needed a kidney transplant.
Without hesitation and because of his deep understanding of the donation process and his love for Syrita, Rodney was the first to volunteer to be tested as a living donor. As it turned out, he was also the only potential donor they would need to test, as he turned out to be Syrita’s near perfect match.
In March 2010, Rodney and Syrita were admitted to the hospital so that Rodney could provide his wife with renewed life. Fifteen hours after the transplant surgery, Rodney walked to Syrita’s room where they embraced and started the next chapter of their lives. Today, more than nine years later, “I feel excellent. Being a living door was a pleasant experience and I feel blessed to see Syrita every day,” says Rodney.
Of her husband, Syrita says, “Because of him, I lived. I don’t take life for granted, but I am forever grateful to this man for giving me this beautiful life.”