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David Cook

On a pleasant fall afternoon in 2011, Charles Adamson, a local builder, dropped by his ex-wife's Cleveland, Tenn., home to pick up their daughter Lauren for an afternoon together.

Suddenly, he felt dizzy. He crashed face-first to the floor, so sick he thought he was dying. His ex-wife and daughter rushed him to the ER, where doctors would soon deliver the news.

Kidney failure.

"Had they gotten me there any later, I would have been in a coma or dead," Charles said.

For Charles, now 44, his collapse turned into a sort of midlife crisis, forcing him to change the way he saw himself, and the world. He changed his diet. His outlook. He kept working, or trying to. ("Don't lay down and die," he told himself.)

He began praying: please heal me.

But to heal his kidney, God went through his heart.

Charles is the son of Floria and Bobby Joe Adamson, who own Adamson Construction, the largest black-owned construction firm in the area. They raised their children — four of them, in a two-bedroom home in Eastdale — to think, love, pray and work harder than hard, and not always in that order.

His life on the line, Charles began early morning dialysis, while joining the national transplant wait list for a new kidney.

But not just any kidney would do; antigens, blood types, all these things must match up.


Jump ahead to 2013. On the Southside, Franklin and Tresa McCallie began a series of intentional conversations about race, inviting local folks — black and white — into their home to dialogue.

Charles — black, open, talk to anyone, disarming — was the greeter that night, the man at the front door.

In walk Curtis and Suzy Baggett — white, big-hearted, as kind as they come. That night, a friendship began between Charles and the Baggetts.

Soon Curtis was waking up at 4 a.m. to drive Charles to dialysis; he'd wait in the lobby, care for him the rest of the day. They gardened, ate meals, worshipped together. They talked race. When Lauren was honored for her GPA, they were there.

"My second family," Charles said.

"He is like a son to me," Curtis said of Charles.

Curtis, who spent his career in development at McCallie School, had an idea. He told Charles: I'll raise money to help you pay for all the expensive medicines you need post-surgery.

Across the nation, strangers, friends, family, kids, local business owners, even prisoners, mailed in donations — more than $28,000.

"I want to thank everyone," Charles said, with emotion. "Whether you're black or white, people have compassion for other people."

Now all he needed was a kidney.

And time was running out.

Back when he collapsed, doctors told him he had four years, maybe five, before his body shut down.

"I never thought the day would come," Charles said.

Jump ahead again to winter 2014. Charles walked into a Christmas party and saw a woman across the room — tall, blonde, unforgettable eyes — serving drinks.

"I'm going to marry her," Charles said to himself.

Her name is Donielle Dickerson; she works at East Brainerd Elementary and runs a catering business. That night, as she was serving, Charles walked up to her again and again and again.

"I was kind of mind-blown," she said. "One of the first things he said was, 'You are so beautiful.'"

Two weeks later, their first date: Mexican, then dancing.

Charles courted her. He dressed up as Santa and visited her classroom kids. They'd talk all night. They stayed old-fashioned: If Charles spent the night, he did so on the couch.

On Valentine's Day 2015, Charles and Donielle got married.

They moved in together.

Then, six months later the phone rang.

We found a kidney, doctors told Charles. A donor perfect for you.

A true match.

Want to guess who?

It was Donielle.

"I was a match for him," Donielle said.

Out of all possible donors, Charles' true match turned out to be Donielle. A little while after the wedding, she had casually called the transplant team at Vanderbilt Medical Center, asking to be tested. You know, just to see.

"They said it was like one-in-a-million odds," Charles said.

"You and Mrs. Donielle are a match inside and out," Lauren told her dad.

Monday morning, Charles and Donielle leave for Vanderbilt; Tuesday, they'll go into transplant surgery. Six weeks of rehab follow for Donielle, and for Charles, a new life begins.

"God answered my prayers," Charles said. "He healed me, sent me a kidney, and the love of my life."

It was a match made in heaven.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and teaches at McCallie School. He can be reached at or 423-757-6329.