They met as teens at BBYO; years later their lives intersected in a profound way.
Alicia Chandler and Lesley Miles met as teens at BBYO. Alicia went to North Farmington High School and Lesley went to Berkley. After graduation, they each went their separate ways.
Little did they know back then how their paths would cross again 20 years down the road when they connected again on Facebook, sharing items about their busy lives.
Alicia was married to Jeff Chandler and raising two children, 11-year-old Brady and 9-year-old Morgan, in Birmingham. An active community member and president of the JCRC/AJC, Alicia had left her position as a health care attorney to study for her master’s degree in Jewish education and Jewish studies through a distance-learning course from Hebrew College, Boston. Her goal is to consult with organizations who help interfaith couples navigate family life.
Lesley had been working in pharmacy-related health support services and living with her partner, Andy Kitchen. She and her younger brother were born with a type of polycystic kidney disease that affects the kidneys and the liver. When her brother was 6 years old, he received a kidney and liver transplant.
Lesley had lived with worsening but manageable kidney disease until now. Her kidney health was declining. After a medical evaluation, her nephrologist told her that she would need to start dialysis. In fall 2018, Lesley posted on her Facebook page that she needed a new kidney.
Alicia saw the post and told her family that she wanted to be tested as a potential donor. Her mother-in-law survived kidney cancer, and her husband, Jeff, has served on the volunteer committee for the Kidney Ball, a National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM) annual fundraiser. He has also been elected to the NKFM volunteer board of directors.
“The likelihood of someone popping up from my past who needed a kidney was low, and it felt like this was what I was meant to do,” Alicia said. “I thought of the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, to save a life. I thought the opportunity to help Lesley was a blessing.”
A year later, after a lengthy health evaluation, Alicia was confirmed as a kidney donor match for Lesley. Alicia reached out to tell Lesley the good news.
“It’s one of those things that is difficult to put into words,” Lesley said. “‘Thank you’ just isn’t enough. She did it because she wanted to. I am just so fortunate to have had her come forward.”
Not long after, Alicia experienced some health issues and underwent gallbladder surgery. She had to wait for medical clearance before she could move forward with the transplant.
While Alicia recovered from surgery, Lesley underwent four surgeries to prepare one of her arms for dialysis, which she would start in January 2020, hoping it would only need to be temporary.
By the end of December, Alicia was medically cleared for transplant surgery. “Even after her gallbladder surgery, she still went forward and that just tells you how amazing a person she is — one of those people who is ridiculously amazing,” Lesley said.
On Jan. 2, 2020, Alicia went to the mikvah with Rabbi Meg Brudney of Temple Beth El, who had written a ritual ceremony to help her prepare for the surgery. “My Jewish values permeated the whole experience,” Alicia said.
The next day, Alicia, at age 40, donated one of her kidneys to her childhood friend. She recovered quickly and went home. Unfortunately, Lesley endured weeks of complications. She recovered at her Ferndale home with the help of her mom and Andy. Even with all the problems, her new kidney is working exactly as it should.
“My gift to Lesley is that she lives a long and full life,” Alicia said. “I am uncomfortable with all the attention. I don’t think of myself as ‘being a hero.’ The reason I talk about it is so that people understand you can give up a month of your life, with no restrictions afterward, and save someone’s life.”
Lesley will return to her position as director of risk adjustment and strategy and performance for Advantasure, an organization that helps health plans navigate the health care system. She said she feels the need to protect her new kidney and help others with kidney disease.
“Someone gave me a part of herself,” she said. “It came out of her body and was given to me. If I can’t protect it, then it feels almost disrespectful.”