Just Between Friends

Woman Donates her Kidney to a Stranger after Hearing God's Voice

Just Between Friends CEO Shannon Wilburn hopes her story inspires others to help during "Organ Donation Month".

Tulsa, Okla. - Shannon Wilburn always had the power to save a stranger’s life. But the 47-year-old didn’t know it until she was in her weekly service at Park Plaza Church of Christ where her husband Mitch is the Pastor. They announced one of their members at one of their other branch locations needed a kidney donor. Clear as a bell, she heard a voice in her head say, “It’s you, Shannon.”

Wilburn, the CEO and co-founder of the children’s and maternity consignment event business Just Between Friends, wondered if she’d just been called by the Lord to give Walt Erwin her kidney or if the voice in her head was her own. She decided to ignore that voice. She didn’t have time to donate a kidney, and certainly wouldn’t do it for a perfect stranger. She soon learned that ignoring it would not be easy. 

“Over the course of the next year, the Lord was going to make sure that I knew He was talking directly to me,” explained Wilburn 

Signs from above kept the need top of mind for Wilburn. The first of many signs: She and her husband bought land, which happened to be near property owned by the Erwins. Walt Erwin generously offered to help remove poison ivy from their property even though they barely knew each other. Another sign; Wilburn was on a flight with a friend who randomly told her about someone she knew who donated a kidney to a stranger. And yet another sign: Wilburn went to a brunch with a group of church friends and Walt Erwin’s wife Kathy was there as well. 

These signs among many others helped prepare her heart that the “voice” likely was the Lord and that it really just might be she who was supposed to donate her kidney. In the fall of 2017, Wilburn told her husband she wanted to be tested to be Erwin’s donor. They discussed it, prayed and decided they should take the next step. 

“It was like every month there would be a reminder, ‘Hey Shannon, don’t forget it’s you’,” Wilburn added. But first, she had to beat the impossible odds of being a match.

The 66-year-old man was struggling to find a match for his kidney that had been transplanted from his brother 35 years earlier His doctor had told him it would be nearly impossible to find a match because of his blood type and the fact that he had built up antigens that would reject most donors. By winter of last year, his kidney had totally failed, and Erwin was facing dire circumstances. He needed a miracle. 

“I wasn’t worried, even when I went on dialysis. I said ‘God, you’re in charge, it’s whatever you want.’” Erwin said. 

Doctors tested Wilburn and they received the news that she was, miraculously, a match. Still, she wondered why the Lord was calling her to give her kidney to a man in his 60’s when there are 95,000 people nationwide, many younger, waiting for transplants. During a conversation, Erwin shared with Shannon that he had a strong and purposeful reason to live, telling her ‘I want to be around to watch my seven grandkids come to know and love the Lord,’.

On December 21, 2017, Wilburn and Erwin squeezed hands before they were rolled into their operating rooms at St. John Medical Center. The operations were a success. Today, Wilburn is back at work helping families across Oklahoma save and make money through Just Between Friends consignment events. Walt is enjoying retirement, his grandchildren and celebrated his 67th birthday on April 6th. 

Strangers no more, Shannon Wilburn and Walt Erwin hope their story will inspire others to register to become organ, eye and tissue donors during National Kidney Month in March and National Donate a Life Month in April. Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the country. More than 590,000 people have kidney failure in the U.S. today, according the National Kidney Foundation. The Centers for Disease Control says 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, but only 16,000 transplants are performed each year.