Arcadia couple Bernard and Vicki Levi will celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. Although they have a celebratory weekend getaway planned, Vicki was able to gift Bernard with something even bigger and more important: her kidney.
Bernard is originally from Detroit, Michigan and Vicki from Wichita, Kansas.
“We always vacationed [in Arizona] and came several times a year to play golf,” Bernard said. “We spent two weeks looking at houses around Pinnacle Peak because we love that area. One morning, while staying at the Royal Palms, I couldn’t get out of the parking lot to go east, so I said, ‘let’s turn at the light,’ which is Arcadia Boulevard.”
As they crossed the north side of Arcadia, they saw homes that were the same style as the ones in Kansas.
“We drove across Arcadia to the other side, and I said ‘we’re done,’” Bernard said. They moved within a few months and have been here for the past three years.
“Arcadia is our fabulous accident,” Bernard said.
Bernard and Vicki were introduced on a blind date by a mutual acquaintance in Kansas City, Kansas, where they lived for 38 years before coming to Arcadia. Bernard worked as a cardiologist, and Vicki as a physician’s assistant, before retiring.
“From ‘nice to meet you’ to ‘I do’ was four months,” Vicki said. “We both just knew.”
They were married in Aspen, Colorado. Bernard was a frequent visitor but knew he wanted to be married at the top of the mountain, so he searched for a friend that could marry the pair.
“Everyone was too busy. But the hotel we were at mentioned someone had married another couple last week and would I like the guy’s name, so I said sure. And it turns out he was also from Detroit,” Bernard said.
He called the gentleman and found out that the officiant and Bernard’s cousin, who was also present, knew each other from back in kindergarten. They lived a couple of blocks away from each other back in Detroit. There also happened to be a medium on the gondola that took the couple up the mountain to get married.
“She said ‘I’m a medium’ and I said ‘a medium what?’,” Vicki laughed.
“She read our auras and said ‘you guys are good,’” Bernard said. “And she was right.”
A while back, Bernard was having mild health problems, so he decided to get them checked out. During a procedure, some complications resulted in his kidneys failing. They recovered for a year until September 2019, when things got progressively worse.
Bernard had high blood pressure and was feeling exceptionally groggy and tired. Before, they were a busy couple – hiking, playing tennis, and scuba diving.
Bernard talked to a nephrologist (a doctor specializing in kidneys) in Kansas City, and she told him to get on a transplant list before things got worse. He was accepted into the program at Mayo Clinic.
“Since I wasn’t involved in transplants [as a doctor], I had no idea that you could have a transplant without being on dialysis,” Bernard said. “I thought you had to be at the end of your life to get a transplant.”
Over the next six months, Bernard’s kidneys deteriorated. At that point, the issue was focused on trying to find a donor. “I kept thinking, ‘how do you go about asking someone for a kidney? Vicki was always interested in being a donor. I never in a million years thought she could be my donor.”
Vicki went through 25 appointments, lab work and testing to see if she could be a match. There was also an option called a “pairing program,” where Vicki would give her kidney to someone, and then they would give their kidney to Bernard.
Soon after, Vicki got a call from Mayo Clinic and assumed they had found a match for the pairing option.
“I said ‘okay, how do we coordinate this,’ and they said ‘no, you match him, perfectly.’ It’s a one in 100,000 match,” Vicki said. “I immediately started crying. I had, from the beginning, a feeling that it was going to be me.”
“Mayo Clinic called in May and said ‘how about this Tuesday,’” Vicki said. Plans were then set in place for May 12.
The surgery was laparoscopic and took about four hours. Now, Vicki has one kidney, and Bernard has three – two that work minimally, and Vicki’s other kidney. After a couple of nights in the hospital, Bernard’s kidneys were functioning regularly.
“Within three days, Vicki was talking about tennis again,” Bernard said. “I was ready to go,” Vicki said. Unfortunately, Vicki and Bernard had to wait six weeks before getting back to their routine.
Now, the pair has started their daily walks on Arcadia Boulevard, and Vicki has returned to playing tennis. They plan on spending their anniversary in Sedona in the fall.