By Tia Lynn Ivey
“It was all worth it!” giggled Cindy Aaron after taking a big bite of a free cookie dough blizzard from Madison’s local Dairy Queen. And all it cost her was a kidney.
When Ernest Fulton, a 49-year-old husband, a father of four, and the assistant manager at the Madison Dairy Queen, was told he only had six months to live in 2018, he thought his time in this world would soon be over.
Ernest was diagnosed with Stage 3 prostate cancer in addition to needing a kidney transplant.
“I was on dialysis for six years due to high blood pressure, then I found out I had cancer on top of it,” said Ernest, energetic and smiling. “But now I have my life back,” he grinned.
The road to reclaiming his life was a long and arduous one, with surprising twists and turns, as he never expected a complete stranger to voluntarily give up a kidney for him. Cindy Aaron, who never met Ernest before this, went under the knife this past March to donate her healthy kidney to him. Since then, both have healed from surgery and are in great health.
“I found out last Christmas that we were a match,” said Ernest. “The best Christmas present I ever got, that’s for sure.”
While Fulton was fighting for his life these past several years, Cindy Aaron, a mother of two and grandmother of one, was looking for the chance to become an organ donor.
“It was just laid on my heart,” said Aaron, who is a member of Lakepoint Community Church in Eatonton, and who lived in Madison for 15 years.
It all started when a fellow church member was in need of a kidney. Aaron said her faith inspired her to help, but she was not a match. Since then, she was tested for other patients in need, but to no avail. Enter Marie Roland. Roland, also a member of Lakepoint Community Church knew Ernest and his wife Felicia for years.
“Ernest, even though he had these struggles he was going through, I never had a conversation with him where he didn’t have a huge smile on his face,” said Roland. “He was thankful and grateful every single day, no matter what.”
Marie got the idea that maybe Cindy could help Ernest.
“Cindy is most giving, generous person and I thought, well maybe they could be a match,” said Roland.
Cindy accepted Marie’s idea and ran with it. Cindy showed up at Ernest’s job to meet him for the first time to tell him in person that she would undergo testing to see if she was match for him.
“If we’re a match, I will give you my kidney,” she told Ernest that day. “But I want free ice cream for life!”
“I meant it, that was part of the deal,” she laughed as she retold the story.
This week Ernest and Cindy reunited at the Madison’s Dairy Queen to make good on that deal. Ernest happily prepared a cookie dough blizzard for Cindy as the two laughed and reminisced together while she ate it.
In recent years, Cindy has become a strong advocate for organ donation, and now that she has successfully donated one of her own organs, her conviction is stronger than ever.
“I highly recommend it and tell people about it all the time,” said Cindy. “Look what it did,” she said pointing to a healthy Ernest, full of life. “How could I not?”
“It saved my life,” said Ernest, who also underwent over 80 treatments of radiation to battle his cancer. “I just kept going, even when we got the worst news, I just kept on.”
Cindy believes what she has been given in life she is meant to share with others.
“If I have something that someone else can use, how selfish would it be of me not to give it?” These are just things and I have learned in the last 10 years what is really important. Things aren’t important. Family is important. People are important. My faith assures me that if I am being obedient and giving what someone needs, God will provide someone to give me or my family what they need when the time comes.”
Now that Ernest is on the mend, recovered from the transplant and nearly in cancer remission, he is planning to take advantage of his new lease on life.
“You know, before I was just always so tired. I would go to work and go to bed and do it all over again,” said Ernest. “There were so many things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t walk very far. I could spend time with my kids the way I wanted. I couldn’t really travel. I prayed day and night that God would come through.” Ernest is a member of Christ Faith Church in Greensboro and said his faith gave him the strength to keep going even when it looked as though his days were numbered. “The worst was not being able care for my son,” explained Ernest. His youngest child was born with spinal muscular atrophy and needs special care. “He’s in a wheel chair and we have always taken care of him, and I really couldn’t anymore when I was sick.”
Since the kidney transplant, Ernest splurged on a vacation to Panama City Beach this summer.
“I want to travel more,” said Ernest. But most of all Ernest just wants to enjoy his life with his wife and four children.
“I am very happy I get more time with everybody,” said Ernest.
As for Cindy, she hopes her actions will inspire others to do the same for others.
I can’t encourage it enough,” said Cindy. “Some people are conscious of their appearance and they don’t want to do it because of they don’t want the scars from surgery. But the way I think about it, just like when a mother gets scars from C-Section, those scars are from bringing life into this world. Well, my scars are from saving a life. And I am proud of them.”