O’Neal was shocked when his work colleague Emilie Burrus Mason offered
to donate one of her kidneys so that he could live.
The two islanders underwent transplant surgery March 8 in Norfolk General Hospital, and both are recovering nicely.
are not related, and other than working together for the NCDOT Ferry
Division in the Ocracoke office did not have much contact prior to this
Emilie, 33, was honored at the April 4 Hyde County commissioners monthly meeting.
was moved beyond words when I heard about this,” said Hyde County
Manager Bill Rich during the meeting. “I wanted a resolution
acknowledging Emilie for her courage and love for that other person.”
teared up as she stood in the Ocracoke School Commons room where
Ocracokers participate in the commissioners’ meetings via
“I didn’t know beforehand that that was going to happen,” she said in an interview along with Fletcher on Friday.
two stood together as attendees on both Ocracoke and in the county
services building in Swan Quarter, where the meeting was being held,
But, to Emilie, her gift had nothing to do with receiving public recognition.
“I’m humbled,” she said about the recognition, “but I just did this to help someone out.”
Prior to the surgery, few people on the island even knew it was happening, she said.
don’t expect people to understand,” Emilie said. “We weren’t good
friends. People thought I was crazy, but I just wanted to help out.”
Emilie, who works at Ocracoke Island Realty, had previously worked taking ferry reservations in the Ocracoke ferry office.
41, who is on disability leave from the N.C. Ferry Division, worked on
the ferry boats, and shared about his declining health issues.
Ten years ago, Fletcher, who with his wife Heather has five children, had a heart attack.
“Then they found the diabetes,” he said. “Turns out I’d had that for 20 years.”
Last summer, kidney failure due to the diabetes led to his undergoing dialysis four times a week.
all this happened with Fletcher, when he was talking to me about it, I
never thought twice about donating a kidney,” Emilie explained.
“It was in the back of my mind to help.”
because three years ago she watched her beloved grandfather, Calvin
Dallas Burrus Jr. of Buxton, decline and die from the complications of
was my other dad,” she said of her “Pop,” for whom she was the eldest
of four grandchildren. “When I got married, they both walked me
down the aisle.”
As Fletcher related his health issues, Emilie recognized similarities to what her grandfather went through at age 81.
Pop started dialysis, it didn’t make him feel better; he went
downhill,” she said, and in October of 2013, he suffered a fatal heart
“It was heartbreaking and terrible for us,” she said. “It was very sad and very hard on all of us.”
So after hearing about Fletcher’s ordeal, she prayed.
faith in God played a huge role in this,” she said. “This was something
I wanted to do, and I prayed that if God thought I could handle it, He
would make it happen.”
Shane Mason, Emilie’s husband, was concerned that she was totally sure with her decision.
“I was, and he said OK and was on board,” she said.
and Emilie then underwent an eight-month vetting and testing process
prior to surgery—not only a myriad of physical tests for Emilie, but
also extensive questioning to make sure she was psychologically
“What if we’d go through all of this and his body rejects it and I’m out a kidney?” she said about the testing.
“I can’t give it back,” Fletcher chimed in.
But Emilie persisted.
“Every single test I did was so perfectly in line,” she continued. “Everything worked out just the way it was supposed to.”
have stomach incisions where the operations took place, though on
opposites sides. Surgeons took Emilie’s left kidney—standard procedure
because the connecting veins are longer—and connected it to Fletcher’s
bladder on the right side of his abdomen.
Emilie’s operation took longer than Fletcher’s and Emilie’s post-op pain was greater.
“The donor goes in with no pain and then gets hit by a Mack truck,” Emilie said about the post-op.
And now Emilie has one less kidney while Fletcher has three.
Emilie’s young kidney immediately began its work making Fletcher feel better.
feel a lot different,” he said, although he has to take 22 pills for 15
different medications every day. While those numbers will
gradually be reduced, he will be on anti-rejection medication the rest
of his life.
I can’t eat sushi or raw oysters,” Fletcher said. For a native
islander who also has a new oyster-farming business called Devil Shoals
Oyster Company, that’s a tough order.
Both have a profound new bond.
they visit often while their young children play together and they talk
at least twice a day, with Emilie making sure Fletcher is drinking
enough fluids, or taking his medications.
“We give each other grief,” Emilie said, and both laughed.
She smiled as she watched her sons, Asher, 1, and Dallas, 3, cavorting with Fletcher’s youngest child, Miranda, 4.
“Our families are all connected now,” she said.
For more Ocracoke news, click here.