Big Question

January 2018

“Would you like to be an organ donor?” isn’t just something that DMV employees Freida Booth-Pitts and Sandy Bloxom ask their customers. It’s something they live out every day.

Would you like to be an organ donor? It’s a question on repeat at any department of motor vehicles across North America.

For years, longtime Virginia DMV employee Freida Booth-Pitts repeated that question to countless customers without thinking twice. These days, though, it’s more than a routine question.

“I ask it in a different way now,” says the assistant manager at Virginia’s North Henrico Customer Service Center. “Today when I ask it,

I think, ‘Is this person going to be the next to save a life?’”

That’s because in June 2017, Booth-Pitts received a lifesaving kidney from her co-worker Sandy Bloxom, assistant manager at the East Henrico Customer Service Center.

A Long and Winding Road to Hope

In 2015, Booth-Pitts began suffering from a growing list of medical issues, from severe fatigue to pneumonia to gout. “Every time someone [around me] would get a common cold, I would end up in the hospital,” she says.

Then came the life-altering news from her doctor: She was experiencing kidney failure and needed immediate dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Family members were tested right away, and a perfect match was identified in Booth-Pitts’ sister. “I went a year thinking she would donate. But when it came time, she backed out,” Booth-Pitts recalls. “But I couldn’t give up, because this is my life.”

The search then extended beyond her blood family—to her work family. “We put my photo and story up at work to see if anyone would be willing to be tested to see if they were a match,” Booth-Pitts says. “One day, I happened to be in a mangers meeting with Sandy. She told me she would get tested.”

To everyone’s surprise, Bloxom was the perfect match. And she was more than willing to donate a kidney to her friend and colleague of more than a decade.

But Booth-Pitts hit another roadblock: A breathing test revealed that Bloxom’s lungs weren’t healthy enough as a result of her long-term smoking, and surgery would be too risky.

“I was totally devastated,” Bloxom says. “I was just as disappointed as Freida. I was determined to help my friend.”

Bloxom watched her friend’s health decline. Booth-Pitts had begun dialysis but was growing weak to the point that she could only work half days. She was set back even further in July 2016 when doctors found an aneurysm in the aortic valve of her heart that required emergency surgery.

Bloxom, in the meantime, was on a mission. She stopped smoking immediately after the breathing test. Eight months later, she called the transplant clinic and asked to be retested. “On May 26, 2017, the clinic called me in for my last test and told me I could donate. My lungs had gone from 49 percent to 89 percent,” Bloxom says. “They asked me when I wanted to schedule the transplant, and I said, ‘How about today?’”

A Ripple Effect

The successful transplant surgery took place June 5, 2017. Both women recovered beautifully and say they feel incredible today.

“After our surgeries, Freida was the first one to come see me in my room,” says Bloxom.

Today they have found a closer-than-ever connection to each other. “I tell Freida that she can never get rid of me now,” jokes Bloxom. “We were close before, but this definitely brought us closer.”

Adds Booth-Pitts: “Sandy might be in another office location, but technically she’s here with me. When Sandy asks how I’m feeling, I tell her, ‘Little Sandy and I are doing fine.’” That shared sense of humor helped the women stay strong through the whole ordeal.

The inspirational women have affected numerous employees and customers—none more than two customers who saw Booth-Pitts’ story on the wall at the North Henrico Customer Service Center. “They saw my story and decided to donate,” Booth-Pitts says. “They each felt like they wanted to help, and they saved two lives.”

The women hope to inspire even more people to become living donors. “I would have never imagined myself as an organ donor,” Bloxom says. “But it’s not just a question [you’re asked at the DMV]. It means something. It can save someone’s life.”