Friends Share Gift for Life

Four friends, separated by a thousand miles, are reunited by amazing circumstances.

- Posted on Jan 15, 2014

Jenni (left) and Haylee, outside the Cleveland Clinic

Something was wrong. I could tell by the sound of her voice. “Jenni, what’s going on?” I asked.

Jenni and I had been good friends since we were little girls. Our families met at church here in Ohio and we went to the same middle school and high school, even college.

I married Ryan after graduation, and Jenni lived just down the street. When she met Octavian, we were thrilled. He fit right in with us.

Then Octavian landed a great teaching job out in Colorado. I was sad when they moved away. Jenni and I would talk on the phone, though, and she usually sounded so happy. What had changed?

“Octavian lost his job,” Jenni said, sighing. It was January 2011. There was no way Octavian could find another teaching job so late in the school year. Ryan and I knew what we had to do. But would our friends go for it?

For once I couldn’t speak. I’m usually the impulsive one, but this...was Haylee crazy?

“We have the bedroom in the basement,” she said. “Move in with us. Just till Octavian finds another job.”

I told her I’d think about it. But I knew it was impossible. We had two kids. They had three. There was no way nine people could live comfortably in a 2,000-square-foot house. We’d just have to tough it out in Colorado.

By May, Octavian hadn’t found a job and we needed a solution fast. Haylee’s plan still seemed crazy, but we were running out of options.

“It’s too much to ask,” Octavian said.

But the Creccos wouldn’t let it go. In June, Haylee flew out to Colorado for my sister’s wedding. At the reception Haylee talked to Octavian and me about logistics.

“Trust me,” she said. “Ryan and I have thought this through. We’ve totally prayed about it. We want to do this.”

So that July, we packed up a U-Haul and drove to Ohio. I was still uneasy. How would we ever make this work?

We had a game plan. The Maianus would get the downstairs bedroom and bathroom. We’d stay upstairs and share the master bathroom with our kids. That first night, the kids were so excited to be with their friends under the same roof. It was one big sleepover.

The next morning, we all woke up at different times. Our families had different schedules and habits, and we’d have to get used to that. That night for dinner, though, all nine of us squeezed in around the table, my elbow almost in Jenni’s plate.

Octavian grabbed Ryan’s hand. “Let’s say grace,” he said. We held hands and gave thanks to God. After that, we ate dinner together almost every night.

Haylee and Ryan didn’t want us to feel like guests, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to disrupt their routine. My kids were high-energy, sometimes practically bouncing off the walls. Haylee worked from home.

So while Octavian was at the library researching jobs, I tried to get out of the house with the kids to give Haylee some quiet time. I even found part-time jobs at my son’s kindergarten and our church nursery during the week.

Still, we were a distraction. At one point, both of my kids had to have their tonsils removed. Two adults and two sick kids in a small room with no windows–that was rough.

One night my two-year-old, Gabby, was in such pain, she wouldn’t stop wailing. I’m so sorry about the noise! I texted Haylee from the basement. I wouldn’t blame her if she was annoyed. Instead, she ran downstairs and asked what she could do.

We never expected to stay longer than a month or two. But after six months, nothing had panned out for Octavian. He was hoping to work in higher education. I just wanted him to find something, anything. It was hard for me to rely so much on others, even our best friends.

It wasn’t a bed of roses. We had to parent together. If one set of kids couldn’t have dessert after dinner, it wasn’t fair if the other set could. There were scraped knees and tantrums and homework problems.

Eventually, though, we settled into a routine. We took turns cooking meals. Ryan and Octavian read to the kids at bedtime and dropped them off at school (and then snuck off for doughnuts!).

Jenni and I staged epic laundry-folding sessions in the family room. Pretty soon, we knew each other’s socks and T-shirts inside and out.

We had plenty of fun too, from Dr. Seuss Night to frosting fights. Whenever we needed space, Ryan and I would take the kids out for dinner. Or the Maianus would visit family for the weekend.

We’d never discussed a timeline, but we didn’t need to. Ryan and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that God wanted the Maianus to stay with us, that he wanted us to do life together.

It was like one of our favorite Scriptures, I John 3:18, said: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” I even wrote that verse on our kitchen chalkboard as a reminder.

Nine months in, I was running out of hope. Day after day, Octavian sent out résumés. He didn’t get so much as an e-mail back. The stress of it all, both financial and emotional, was getting to me.

“We can’t stay here forever,” I whispered to Octavian one night, after the kids had fallen asleep.

“It won’t be forever,” he said. “God has a plan.”

I wondered about that. Sometimes my faith felt as small as a mustard seed.

One day in December, Octavian put on his best suit, marched into the office of one of the deans at Kent State University and persuaded the dean to give him an interview. It went well, and for his second-round interview, the school asked him to prepare a presentation.

Ryan, Haylee and I helped him rehearse in the living room, throwing our toughest questions at him. Our hard work paid off. In February 2012 Octavian got a job as a student-services advisor at the university. He’d even get to work on his doctorate tuition-free.

We started looking for houses and found a place just four miles from the Creccos. House-hunting was a long process, but I thought I could finally breathe again.


A week after Octavian got the job, Ryan went in for some routine dental work and found out that his blood pressure was through the roof. He’d always been physically fit; he had to be, to work as a contractor. Lately, though, he’d been tired, sluggish, even. He went to the doctor for tests.

The results were a total shock. Ryan’s kidneys were failing–operating at only 30 percent. The doctors couldn’t explain it, but eventually he’d need a kidney transplant. “This feels like a death sentence,” Ryan said.

I tried to handle it. But I’d get on my knees to pray and end up flat on our bedroom floor. If it hadn’t been for Jenni and Octavian, I don’t know what I would have done. “We’re here for you guys,” they told me. “The way you’ve been here for us.”

And they were. If we got stuck at the hospital, Jenni and Octavian went grocery shopping, helped the kids with homework, made dinner. Even when they moved out, that May, they were never far.

By Christmas, Ryan’s kidney function fell to 14 percent. He needed a transplant, the sooner the better. No one in our immediate family could donate because of age or health problems.

We told folks at church, and I posted messages online, asking friends to be tested as potential donors. Please, Lord, I asked, let there be a good match.

The transplant coordinator at the Cleveland Clinic actually asked me to tell people to stop calling–they’d been flooded with potential donor requests. I was overwhelmed.

I couldn’t believe what the coordinator from the Cleveland Clinic was saying. “You’re the number one donor match,” she said. I texted Octavian right away. His reply left me stunned–he was the number two match!

Out of all those people, we were the best candidates...what were the chances?

Octavian, Jenni, Ryan and Haylee at the hospital before the operationWhen I told Haylee, she couldn’t stop crying. I texted Ryan next: I’m going to be a pain in your side the rest of your life, buddy! Octavian wasn’t so sure. “I’m going to be the one to do this,” he said, looking over all the transplant forms and papers. “I just have this feeling.”

He was right. The doctors discovered that I had kidney stones, so I was taken off the donor list. Octavian, though, was pronounced the perfect donor. And just in time. Ryan was now doing dialysis four times a day. Still, he didn’t want to pressure Octavian.

“You don’t owe me,” Ryan said. “This is a much bigger deal than sharing a house.”

It wasn’t a simple decision for Octavian. He’s not impulsive like me. We had the kids to think about. He did his research, talked to the surgeons, prayed about it. Then he was sure. “Don’t think of this as a gift from me,” he told Ryan. “It’s a gift from God.”

The morning of the surgery, August 20, 2013, we drove to pick the Maianus up from their house. I had two people to worry about now–my husband and his best friend.

The four of us stood in the driveway. Ryan grabbed Octavian’s hand. One by one, we bowed our heads and prayed, just like we’d done so many times at the dinner table.

The transplant was a success. It took Octavian a couple of months to get back on his feet. Like any recipient, Ryan monitors his health closely. But so far, so good. He’s back at work, strong as ever.

Whatever happens next, I know Haylee and Ryan will be right there, doing life with us. Like Octavian said right before he was wheeled to the operating room, “The four of us–we’re going to grow old together!” God’s love in action.

Watch this video for more about the Creccos and Maianus!


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