August 11, 2022

A story of family and faith: Jennifer received a kidney transplant. The donor was Capri, who is married to Dennis. Jennifer is Dennis’ ex-wife. It’s complicated.

The extended family has grown closer as a result of Capri’s generosity. She says her faith led her to the decision.

Jennifer Shane, a transplant patient, poses for a photo outside of Vanderbilt Villages on Thursday, August 11, 2022 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Shane received a donated kidney from her ex-husband's new wife.

Jennifer Shane received a kidney transplant in March, 2022. The circumstances were…complicated. Photo by Erin O. Smith

“You’re probably not going to believe what I’m going to tell you,” Capri Payne said, before recounting the story one more time.

In March 2022, Capri donated a kidney at Vanderbilt University Medical Center — to her husband’s ex-wife, Jennifer Shane.

“I was led by the Lord to donate,” she said. “It felt crazy, but it felt right.”

Her gift of life would not only heal Jennifer, but also bring an extended family of children and stepchildren, wife and ex-wife, closer together.

Capri said it all started when her stepson, Jennifer’s son Bradley, was hospitalized with Type 1 diabetes. She was visiting him, and he disclosed that his mom, Jennifer, had kidney disease.

“And it was almost instantly that I knew that I was going to be donating a kidney,” Capri said.

“When she first told me, I thought she was crazy, but as it went on and progressed, she insisted that the Lord was leading her that way, and I couldn’t say no.”

Capri didn’t say anything for a couple of years. Like she said, the idea sounded crazy, and Jennifer’s disease hadn’t progressed to the stage where she needed a kidney. But when Bradley died, Capri decided to tell her husband, Dennis, what was on her heart.

It’s fair to say his initial reaction was not enthusiastic.

“He’s like, ‘you’re not giving my ex-wife your kidney,’” Capri said.

Dennis and Capri

Then, in August of 2020, Jennifer caught COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three weeks. It was too much for her kidneys, which were first damaged by a nasty bout of strep that caused nephritis when she was 19. Now they were failing.

“I had told the doctor all those 36 years, I am never going to dialysis, I’d rather die first,” Jennifer recalled. “Well, the doctor came in and he said, ‘Jennifer, we’re going to have to do dialysis.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want dialysis; I’d rather die first.’ He said, ‘Well, you’ve got about three weeks.’ I said, ‘When do we start?”

Jennifer’s family members came forward to test to see if they could donate a kidney, but none of them was a match.

“My son had died four years earlier,” she said. “Upon his death I became very angry with the absence his father had had in his life and prayed to the Lord, ‘God, you have got to help me with this.’ Prayers have been prayed many times but help sometimes took weeks or years (and I said) ‘Lord, I need your help now.’ The very next morning, I awoke and not one single drop of anything but love was in my heart for Dennis and Capri. And ever since then the relationship has grown.”

Capri and Jennifer became the best of friends. They would even sit in the same pew at The Church of Paragould, in Paragould, Arkansas — the kind of small Ozarks-foothills town with many churches, a bustling Walmart, a drag strip on the edge of town, and where no one minded if you, as Capri did, raise goats in the yard.

Capri strongly felt that her Christian faith was calling her to donate a kidney to her friend.

“I was like, ‘Jenn, God said I’m supposed to give you my kidney,’” Capri said. “And it was a really scary thing to say, because I could easily be proven wrong,” simply by not being a match.

Even Dennis was coming around to the idea.

“When she first told me, I thought she was crazy, but as it went on and progressed, she insisted that the Lord was leading her that way, and I couldn’t say no,” he said.

Capri was tested, and she was the only one who was a perfect match.

The road to surgery was bumpy. Jennifer caught COVID again. Capri suffered a broken leg after an accident with one of her goats, also named Dennis.

But on March 31, 2022, the surgery finally happened.

Jennifer said she’s had some complications and setbacks after her transplant, but the professionals at Vanderbilt have been on top of each one.

“Before you knew it, I had the kidney in me,” Jennifer said. “And she (Capri) never, ever looked like she regretted it. She’s just a very giving, loving and wonderful person.”

Then a funny thing happened. Not only was Jennifer healed, but “it started the healing process” for the whole family, Dennis said.

Divorce is always a complicated subject. Looking back, Dennis can see now that it was his years of drug addiction that caused his marriage to Jennifer to end. “I don’t blame Jennifer,” he said. “I wasn’t doing right.”

After about 12 years of addiction and prison time, Dennis became sober. He met Capri. He started healing. And now the rest of his family is healing, which paradoxically started when the family lost Bradley and his wife gave his ex-wife a kidney.

“Capri and Jennifer, they talk weekly if not daily,” he said. “It’s created a healing between me and our other son (Wesley). When there’s a divorce, there’s got to be a healing. Between me and Wes, we’ve got a better bond now than we’ve ever had. So, I’m thankful for that.”

Jennifer said she’s had some complications and setbacks after her transplant, but the professionals at Vanderbilt have been on top of each one.

“I’ve been able to walk over a mile, three or four times a week,” she said. “I’ve been able to swim 10 laps, three to four times a week. And I’m really pressing myself to keep active. I don’t want to ruin this chance of life I’ve been given.”

And it’s all thanks to her friend, her ex-husband’s wife.

“I couldn’t be more pleased that I did it,” Capri said. “I’m so happy that, once her immunity is back up and all that, she is going to be able to live a full life again. That’s just amazing. I couldn’t be more blessed.”