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UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Spring 2014

ToreroAthletics 

Spring 2014by Mike Sauer

Give and Let Live

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When it comes to friendship, there’s no sacrifice too great for USD softball coach

Talk to anyone who knows Melissa McElvain (pictured above at right), and you’ll quickly identify a consistent thread in each conversation. Surprisingly, it’s got nothing to do with her successful 13-year run at the helm of USD Softball. Nor is it about her unfailing optimism, love of competition or revered leadership qualities.

By all accounts, everything McElvain is, and everything she stands for, can be distilled down to a simple, eight-letter adjective.

“Melissa is, without a doubt, the most selfless person I’ve ever met,” says Dana Findley, McElvain’s best friend of 14 years. “I told her a long time ago that I wished I were as giving as she is. She has this innate ability to figure out what people need, and if she can’t give it to them immediately, she’ll find a way to get it to them. And she’ll never ask for anything in return.”

The connection between the two is as obvious as it is genuine. The jokes and good-natured ribbing come effortlessly when they’re together, and if one starts a sentence, it seems just as likely the other will finish it. “Great minds think alike,” quips Findley. “There’s just people you click with; people who share your sensibilities and look at life through a similar lens.”

And perhaps more than anyone, Findley understands firsthand the value and impact of McElvain’s altruistic nature. In 2011 during a routine check-up, her doctors noticed some abnormalities in her bloodwork. Findley recalls being a little more tired than normal at the time, but as an active mother of two trying to balance the demands of work and parenthood, feeling a bit sluggish now-and-again didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

Over the course of the next several years her doctors administered every test imaginable, but were unable to pinpoint the cause of her health issues. Her condition was finally identified as focal segmental glomerulonephiritis, a degenerative kidney disorder that, if left untreated, would lead to fatal consequences, potentially within months.

McElvain shudders when recalling the day Findley delivered the devastating news. “I was in the bullpen working with the pitchers, and I never bring my phone when I’m doing that, but that day I did,” she recalls. “I must’ve gasped when I heard the news, because the girls all asked me what was wrong, and if I was ok.”

Findley’s kidney function was at 18 percent. Once it dropped below 12, she would require dialysis, an invasive procedure that eliminates waste and unwanted water from the blood, but is also tremendously debilitating for the patient.

While things hadn’t hit bottom yet, the situation was growing more dire by the day. The options were limited, and the more appealing avenue — at least from Findley’s perspective — was to receive a kidney transplant from a pre-screened donor.

Now came the $64,000 question; just who would be willing to step up to the plate? On average, kidney transplant patients have to wait more than seven years for a suitable donor; time that most, including Findley, just don’t have. “I knew that I needed a donor, but finding one was another matter entirely,” she says. She didn’t need to look far. “I know I shouldn’t be surprised that Melissa was willing to get tested to see if she could be a donor, but it doesn’t make it any less amazing, or selfless.”

A thoughtful consultation with her husband, Ryan, coupled with a considerable amount of prayer on the subject, led McElvain to a seemingly simple conclusion: if it was going to be anyone, why not her? “We saw Dana’s husband the night that I found out about how sick she was, and he told us that he couldn’t be a donor for her,” she says. “I knew what I had to do.”

The problem was, McElvain is downright terrified of hospitals, or anything to do with them, for that matter. It’s what folks in the medical industry like to call “white coat syndrome,” and it wasn’t going to make an already difficult task any easier. “I really, really don’t like going to hospitals, and I was getting really tense even thinking about going in and getting tested as a potential donor match for Dana,” she says.

But above all else, McElvain was committed to helping her friend by any means necessary, and through the power of faith and friendship, overcame her fears and took the initial steps toward determining if she could donate.

A slew of scans, EKGs and blood tests followed, and, after months of screening, it was determined that the two best friends would be forever bound by something both life-giving and life-changing.

“My tests came back great, and the doctors marveled that we shared so many commonalities for not being related,” McElvain says.

The transplant took place without a hitch last September, and both donor and patient are thriving. In fact, Findley’s new and improved vital organ even has a name: Melody. “It’s a combination of both of our names,” says McElvain, grinning. “Is it weird to name a kidney? Maybe. Is it awesome? Absolutely!”

For more information on kidney disease, or to learn how you can be eligible for donorship, go to www.kidney.org.