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Community rallies around Belleair Bluffs woman in need
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Myra Bowen sits with her pet Maltese, Angel, just two months after receiving a kidney transplant.
BELLAIR – Four years ago Myra Bowen of Belleair Bluffs learned she needed a kidney transplant. Now she has one, but only after a long and difficult road. Hers is a story of compassion and community and she’s anxious to share it.

It began in January 2009, when Bowen, 51 at the time, had an abscessed tooth. It turned out to be much more serious. She suffered kidney failure and had to go on dialysis three times a week. She hoped to be able to get a transplant only to discover that because she was on Medicare she didn’t have the 20 percent needed to pay for it.

That is when the community stepped in. People from Belleair and Belleair Bluffs got together and staged fundraisers, so Bowen could get her transplant. Then the wait began.

In May 2013 the wait ended, or so she thought.

“I was four and a half years on dialysis and when I got the phone call I was excited,” said Bowen. “They called me on a Thursday and said they had a match.”

But it was not to be. When Bowen got over to Tampa General Hospital where the transplant would be done they discovered it wasn’t a match after all.

“I was very down,” she said.

But she wouldn’t be down for long. She got another phone call just two days later.

“On Saturday I got another call. They said don’t rush we have two good kidneys,” she said. “They belonged to a man in his forties who is on life support.”

When Bowen got to the hospital and registered she got talking to the man in the line with her. It turns out he needed a kidney, too, and, as it happened, they will be forever linked.

“Later when I met the man again we compared notes and discovered that I had gotten the left kidney and he had gotten the right one from that same man,” she said.

It has been three months since the transplant and Bowen says she is recovering nicely, but it hasn’t been without its complications.

“Shortly after the surgery I got infected so I ended up spending six hours in Morton Plant Hospital. They got it cleared up with antibiotics and pain pills,” she said. “Now I take 30 pills a day and I’ll be on anti-rejection medicine for the rest of my life but my kidney is working great. I couldn’t stand dialysis, three hours a day three times a week.”

Some of the people who helped raise money for Bowen over four years ago are pleased with the news of her transplant and happy to have been part of it.

“It is awesome news, it was a long time coming,” said Brian Franzese of Bella Vino Wine and Cheese Market. “It was something that we did to help her out and get some funds. She was pretty excited back then when she got on the list and she recently came into the store to let us know that she got the kidney. It was awesome news because it doesn’t always happen. It is spectacular.”

Franzese said he got involved because one of his employees used to work with her.

“Jay Hall knew her well and he got us to jump on board; he was actually the one who led us. It is always about people helping people, amen,” he said.

Another fund-raiser back then was Karla Rettstatt, then a Belleair commissioner.

“I feel overjoyed, overjoyed,” she said. “It is wonderful to see how a community can come together and help another person. We are so blessed. I was just one person of many people. It really is what life is all about; it is all good.”

Bowen, now 55, is divorced and lives in Belleair Bluffs with her pet Maltese, Angel. She is quick to remember those who helped her get the money for the transplant.

“I got $7,000 from people I didn’t even know,” she said. “Then when I needed money for my medication and insurance my cousin, Allen Goodkind, who lived in Pittsburgh, helped me every month. He passed away last year but I will never forget him or his kindness.”

Bowen, who was born in Chicago, moved to Florida 19 years ago. Until just before her surgery she worked at a convenience store. She had been there for 15 years until new owners let her go because she was too ill to carry out her duties. Now she said she’d like to get back to work somewhere.

“Right now I can’t work, I have good days and bad days, but I’m going stir crazy,” she said. “I need a job; I have too much time on my hands. I love to cook so I’ll look for something along that line I think.”

For now however Bowen said she is just happy to be alive without having to go through dialysis.

“I feel like I got a new life, I really do. I wouldn’t turn the clock back at all on the decision to have the transplant. I feel like I have a second chance at life.”
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