DOBSON — There are those Christians out there who have lived through some personal drama which concretely affirms their belief God is firmly and actively behind what passes in life. The families of David and Amanda Burton and Ashley and Tyler Dean are a testament to this.
David Burton and Ashley Dean are students at Surry Community College. Dean is a business major and David Burton is a nursing student. According to Burton, they became friends in Elkin High School where their group of friends frequented the office of Dean’s father, Principal Mike Land, and grew to be known as the “elite eight.”
A major force in this story was set in motion when David, who is now 42, discovered he had a dysfunctional kidney. He said he was 6 years old. The bad kidney was removed and life continued for Burton.
“I was 15 when I started to suffer from a variety of kidney infections and I basically suffered through most of high school,” said Burton. “I went back to the doctors and found out my remaining kidney was being attacked.” Doctors felt they could stall the kidney’s failure with medication which they did until Burton was 20 and they scheduled a transplant.
Friends and family stepped forward to be tested to find a match to donate. Burton’s mother, Debbie, said she made an “executive decision” and chose to donate a kidney for David rather than face having both of her sons on an operation table simultaneously. The operation went smoothly and David’s life continued as he went to North Carolina State and met his wife, Amanda. The couple’s children are Ava and Addison. Ashley also went off to college, met her husband, Tyler. The Deans have two children, Chloe and Kayden. The couples gravitated back to where they grew up and the Burtons returned to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, David’s home church.
It was around the time David became 40, when a routine checkup’s blood work indicated his body was beginning to reject the new kidney. He underwent a type of treatment similar to dialysis where synthetic plasma was substituted for his own. Kidney function returned. Later a visit to the emergency room for stomach pain showed the kidney was in trouble.
“They started testing me again and I was in chronic renal failure,” said David Burton. “So, after 11 years of being on anti-rejection drugs, since I was 20 years old, I was told by my doctors they could slow down the process but not stop it. Eleven years after a life changing event I was back to that same point. I was frustrated, feeling bad and mad at this point.”
They started attending support groups and meeting at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. It was at this time when Ashley Dean and her family, who were back in the area, felt compelled to give a visit to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church after passing it numerous times while searching for a new church. Ashley, like David, also grew up in this church. The two families became fast friends.
“Nothing has ever been easy for me,” said David Burton. “Ashley and I were sitting there among the others needing transplants when we found out many were there for the third time or more. They just wanted to find somebody who could donate. I had 20 persons from friends, family and church step forward and they had nobody. They were going to be on the list for three years. It was then I stopped looking at this as a punishment. Perhaps I could give others hope by making it through this.”
David Burton said the nurses who helped treat him became his inspiration for being in SCC’s nursing program. He plans to graduate in May from the program. In spite of family and church members stepping forward, Ashley said she felt she wanted to apply to help David as well.
“I called and found out what I need to do to apply to be a donor,” said Ashley Dean. ” The transplant coordinator called me later and I was so excited. She explained to me that a second donation makes it harder to find a match and I wasn’t related to David. I still called her non-stop for a day-and-a-half to find out about the results.”
She was the best donor match for David.
Dean found out while driving on Interstate 77 that day. She pulled over and called Amanda Burton, who is a middle school teacher at Elkin. She was amid a bus load of students returning from a field trip to Washington, D.C.
“She knew I was calling and it was either good news or bad news,” said Dean. “I was so excited. I told her and she was speechless. We went through the rest of the tests in August and I was officially approved then. The surgery is booked on Dec. 12 (which is David Burton’s 42nd birthday).”
Amanda Burton said none of this would have been possible without the families’ church. She said she feels this was not an accident, the same high school, growing up in the same church, David’s mother working at SCC and the two attending the community college and Ashley’s family returning to Mount Pleasant Church. The coincidences added up to get David a battery of help when he most needed it. She said, “The Lord was was working on this and setting things up long before we knew it.”
“We believe very strongly God knows what we needed before we knew it. You can see very clearly how this all came about from the beginning,” said Debbie Burton. “Ashley told me they had passed that church a million times before she felt compelled to come. She and Amanda look just like each other. It’s a beautiful relationship and at the center is God who has been at work.”
Everyone interviewed said they couldn’t emphasize strongly they want their story to draw attention to how many donors are not as fortunate as David. David Burton estimated more than 120,000 people nationwide are waiting for a kidney to be donated. He said an average of 18,000 die daily waiting for a kidney.
“Being a donor takes a remarkable person,” said Debbie Burton. “Ashley is a remarkable young woman. We want to encourage everyone who can to become a donor. Recently, laws have changed so you can become a donor at death. This can be put on your (driving) license and it supersedes the wishes of any next of kin.”
David Burton said he also praised classmates, faculty and staff at the college for “bending over backwards” to help him with his studies. He said there were days when he couldn’t make class and they all helped him to make up work and complete the program.
“We all started out together in high school and have stayed together,” said a tearful Amanda Burton. “We are so thankful for the support the community has given us as well. They have organized fundraisers and helped us so much. They have been remarkable. We wanted to tell this story because we are very blessed. The humor of this group of people has helped us so much. We fit right in with the Burtons.”
The group said they still find it humorous Ashley’s Facebook posts describe the upcoming surgery almost as if it is a trip to a spa.
“People think I’m nuts,” said Ashley. “The first question they ask me when I tell them about this is they ask if I’m related like that would ever be the only reason to be a donor.”
Debbie Burton said that although Ashley is new to her son’s Elite Eight, she has watched this cluster of friends grow up and stay together.
“This is a group of friends who would walk through fire for each other,” said Debbie Burton. “It’s an incredibly close knit group of kids I’ve watched go from daycare to adulthood. They’re incredible.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.