Smiley is back in the game. And his team is ready to play. Charlie Spencer, dubbed “Smiley” in 1977 as a happy-go-lucky newcomer to Tommy Tipton and Joe Holtzapfel’s newly formed Ironton Little League team, The Tipton’s Astros, earned his nickname by constantly displaying an ear-to-ear grin.
Also known as “Junior,” in deference to his father, Charlie has for decades lived up to the “Smiley” tag he gained as a 9-year-old Astro.
Nothing, it seemed, could break this man’s spirit. Where Charlie was, the smile was also.
Fast forward to October 2004.
An auto accident left Charlie, 42, with headaches severe enough to consult a physician. What the doctor told him threatened to remove his smile for good.
“He said my kidneys had been shut down for quite a while,” Charlie recalled of the doctor visit, noting that he had not noticed anything unusual about his health before the car wreck. “He said I was a walking miracle.”
Immediately, he began dialysis, a grueling tri-weekly grind where the blood is removed from the body, cleansed, and reinserted.
He lost his job, but, although fate seemed to be perched firmly on his shoulders, he never lost hope.
“I just had to wait my turn,” he said of the nearly six-year wait to receive a donated kidney that would allow him to actually have a life again. “I knew it was going to happen sooner or later.”
Finally, in June of this year, while he and his wife, Mary, were shopping at Sam’s Club, the much anticipated call from The Ohio State Medical Center rattled his cell phone.
“They said they had an anonymous donor who matched me and asked if I could come to Columbus that day to take some tests,” he recalled. “I said, ‘OK, I’m on my way.’”
If you know Charlie Spencer, you may find yourself laughing as he recalls such a life altering event in his classic, nonchalant manner.
But to Mary, it was “go” time.
“I was ready,” she exclaimed, mentioning that the gravity of the situation made her physically ill during the ride to Columbus. “I was so excited. We waited so long.”
Following a routine blood screen, a June 25 surgery date was scheduled.
Setbacks had played with Charlie’s emotions in the past. On at least two separate occasions, friends had taken a battery of tests to see if they could donate a kidney to him.
Each time, health issues barred the good intentions of the potential donors and left him waiting.
“He got a little frustrated with the ups and downs and false hope,” Mary said, barely even acknowledging the obvious strain this ordeal placed on her emotions.
“But it’s all good now,” she laughed.
On June 25, Charlie received a kidney from an anonymous donor who, unbelievably, wouldn’t even reveal himself to his recipient.
“I asked if I could meet him, but the doctor (Dr. Ronald Pelletier) said he wanted to remain anonymous,” Charlie said, adding “he just wanted to donate the kidney and go his own way.”
Amazed and thankful for the gift from the unnamed soul, Charlie’s life has increased dramatically since he received the kidney.
“I can sleep longer because I don’t have to worry about getting up for dialysis,” he said. “I can also eat and drink a lot more. I’m basically getting back to where I was before my kidneys shut down.”
“I’m in good spirits and good health,” he said with a hearty laugh.
Also in good spirits is Mary.
“It’s been a ride,” she said, displaying a humble nature that matches that of her husband. “Now, we’ve got a life.”
It’s the “we’ve” in Mary’s last sentence that underscores the magnitude of this stranger’s gift to her husband.
Not only has Charlie been given his life back, but so has Mary and the couple’s three children.
“I have my husband back and now we can do things together, like take trips, fun stuff, without worrying about a schedule,” she said.
“This is a great blessing. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
An anonymous donor had it in his heart to save one life. But he might have never considered that he was altering at least five lives with one unimaginable gift.
He gave Mary back her smile.
And she and their kids got back their “Smiley.”