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Thicker than water

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
Juanetta Roberts and Frank Jay were once a familiar sight on the Atmore Ambulance runs. The two were partners for more than 12 years, working as an emergency medical technician and a paramedic, respectively. Over the years, the two became more than friends, more like family than co workers.
That was before the polycystic kidney disease, or pkd, that runs in Roberts' family, forced her to slow down.
"I've known I've had this disease for 30 years plus," Roberts said. "I never knew I would need a kidney. But he (Jay) always said 'Don't worry, I'll give one of mine.' It was a running joke. We never imagined it would become a reality."
But early this year when Roberts' kidneys began to fail, the search for a donor began. That was when the character of her coworkers really showed itself.
When Jay had joked about giving her a kidney, they did not know about tissue matching. In order to donate, the potential donor must go through a battery of tests, and five of the employees of the ambulance service offered to be tested.
But Jay's tests were done first, and he was a match.
"Frank had no question in his mind," said Pat Still, paramedic and owner of the business. "He was bound and determined he was going to do this for her."
Roberts knows what the transplant surgery will entail. Not only has she been told by the surgeons, but both her brother and sister have had transplants because of the same disease. They are both doing great, Roberts said.
Jay and his wife went to Birmingham for the three day battery of tests to ensure that he was in top health and a viable match for Roberts.
He did a lot of Internet research on his own as well.
He said his family has totally supported his choice to donate a kidney to Roberts.
"I wouldn't have been tested if they weren't ok with it," he said. "I talked with them about it beforehand."
And Jay himself is not concerned about the transplant.
"I looked into the pros and cons of it, and it won't affect me. Only contact sports are excluded, and I am a woodworker and musician. The biggest thing for me is the six weeks I will have to be off work."
While Jay is confident in the skill of the surgeons and is sure he is in top health, his family history might give other people pause.
There is high blood pressure in his family as well as diabetes. Late life diabetes is a possibility, and diabetes is one of the major causes of kidney disease.
But Jay said that his lifestyle is far different from those family members that have high blood pressure. He doesn't get upset and he eats foods believed to help control blood pressure.
"I'll watch for hypertension," he said. "But there is no reason that I should not live a normal life."
And normal is what Roberts wants to get back to, although she will have to remain on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life.
"All I'm looking forward to is feeling better," she said. "Dialysis is for the birds." Roberts has had to undergo dialysis three days a week.
The pair will check into the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital on Oct. 5 with the surgery scheduled for Oct. 6.
Jay will be in the hospital for three to five days. Roberts, on the other hand, will be in the hospital for six days, but must remain in Birmingham for a month after she is released from the hospital.
The pair are keeping things light until they go to Birmingham. When Roberts gets tired, as she does easily, she goes home. Jay still jokes and rough houses with his coworkers, or at least until Roberts catches them at it.
Then she stops the horseplay. "I have to watch out for Frank. He's my buddy." She pauses and smiles at the others as they joke and goof off.
"Hey, you guys!" she says. "Leave Frank alone, and don't you hurt my kidney!"