GREENFIELD — For the most part, Dave and Elaine Ethridge are complete opposites.

Sitting in the living room of their Greenfield home, their four granddaughters playing around their feet, each tries to find the words to describe the whirlwind of emotions that dictated the last three months. 

They always knew Dave Ethridge’s diabetes could cause kidney failure, but that didn’t make the doctor’s message he needed a transplant any easier.

Story continues below gallery

His wife, driven by her outgoing and talkative nature, started asking everyone she knew if they’d consider being tested as a possible living donor, she said; Dave Ethridge, on the other hand, more quiet and reserved, preferred to keep his prognosis private; he didn’t even want his sons undergoing the testing, let alone friends or strangers, he said.

Turns out they didn’t need to look far: Elaine Ethridge would be the one to save her husband’s life.

The Greenfield couple recently learned she is the perfect match to donate a kidney, a rarity among non blood relatives. Approximately one in 24 Americans who underwent a kidney transplant in 2014 received their new organ from a spouse, statistics show.

Elaine Ethridge was the first to undergo the test immediately after the couple learned Dave Ethridge needed a transplant. And after seven vials of blood, three weeks of waiting and one tear-jerking phone call, doctors told the couple they were a perfect match.

Everyone was surprised, the couple admits.

Of the more than 17,000 kidney transplants that took place in the United States in 2014, only 700 donations came from a spouse or life partner, according to records kept by the National Kidney Foundation.

Elaine Ethridge had emailed friends, family and to her colleagues at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, where she works as a jail officer, asking them to visit the transplant center in Indianapolis to be tested.

A few had started the process when Elaine Ethridge learned she was match. Doctors have recommended willing donors follow through with testing, in case something unpredictable keeps Elaine from being the donor, the couple said.

Dave Ethridge, a retired sheriff’s deputy, is the first to admit he hasn’t lived the healthiest lifestyle. His career as a deputy with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department was stressful and kept him busy without much time for the recreational exercise that would have kept him in better shape, he said.

Dave Ethridge was the department’s chief deputy under former Sheriff Nick Gulling and oversaw the detective unit for then-Sheriff Bud Gray. He retired from the department in 2009 and now works as the security supervisor for Covance in Greenfield.

He was diagnosed with diabetes more than 15 years ago. At the time, doctors warned him the disease would eventually impact his kidneys; the high levels of blood sugar cause the organs to work overtime, filtering the toxins out of his blood.

Every six months for the past decade, Dave Ethridge has visited doctors to have blood tests performed to monitor his kidney function. They watched as functionality dropped, and in the last year, he was referred to a specialist.

Three months ago, the specialist sent him to the transplant center at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis to start the process of looking for an organ donor.

The process is the same no matter what organ needs replacing, said Emily Joyner, a spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Transplants.

Each patient is added to a transplant waiting list for a deceased donor match, Joyner said. In the meantime, they’re encouraged to seek out family and friends to see if anyone could be a match for a living donor, Joyner said.

Spouses being matched together for organ transplants is fairly rare, she said. Most organ donations come from deceased donors; though thousands of people each year are able to find a living family member or friend who is willing to have the surgery, to give a life-saving gift.

The doctors at the St. Vincent transplant center encouraged the Ethridges to reach out to anyone — friends, family, even strangers — who might be a match to donate a kidney to keep Dave Ethridge alive.

His kidney function isn’t currently low enough to need to dialysis, but that might change as the couple awaits the surgery doctors are hoping to perform around the first of the year.

The Ethridges recently sat through a days-long seminar about what needed to be done prior to surgery; about the tests and doctor visits; the meetings with counselors; the recovery period for both of them.

It will all be worth it in the end, Elaine Ethridge said; a couple cuts, a few days in the hospital are nothing if it keeps her husband alive, keeps him around for those little girls asking if Grandpa can take them fishing in the pond in the backyard.

Dave Ethridge kind of hopes the surgery will fall on Jan. 16 — the day 35 years ago he and Elaine started out on this crazy adventure.

“That seems poetic to me,” he said with a smile.

By the numbers

In 2014, more than 17,000 kidney transplants took place in the United States. Of these, about 5,500 came from living donors. Here is a breakdown of the most common donor-patient relationships:

Parent to child: 453

Child to parent: 772

Identical twin: 7

Full sibling: 1,071

Half sibling: 54

Other relative: 336

Spouse or life partner: 700

Friends: 1,278

Unrelated donor paired with patient: 544

Unrelated, anonymous donor: 181

Source: The National Kidney Foundation

Author photo
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or