A life saved: Two men who share more than a kidney to run Peachtree

When Jack Abbott (right) needed a kidney after a serious bout with COVID-19, his pastor Jimmy Slick (left) volunteered to donate. The two have fully recovered and will run the Peachtree Road Race together.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Kathy Slick

Combined ShapeCaption
When Jack Abbott (right) needed a kidney after a serious bout with COVID-19, his pastor Jimmy Slick (left) volunteered to donate. The two have fully recovered and will run the Peachtree Road Race together.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Kathy Slick

Jack Abbott didn’t even know he was alone, sequestered in a hospital bed somewhere in Cobb County. He didn’t know his wife couldn’t see him or that doctors felt they were on the brink of losing him.

Abbott was unconscious, unable to comprehend his dire health. He was barely clinging to life.

Seventeen months later, he’ll stand at the starting line of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Peachtree Road Race. And he’ll do so alongside Jimmy Slick, the unforeseen angel who helped save him. For Abbott and Slick, participating in the Peachtree Road Race is about finishing what they started together.

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Abbott, formerly the road race’s course director, and Slick, a pastor at Summit Baptist Church for nearly three decades, are avid runners who will embark on the 10K together Monday. But it wasn’t too long ago the odds were heavily stacked against such possibility.

It wasn’t too long ago that Abbott questioned whether he’d walk at all.

The 76-year-old Abbott went to ICU with COVID-19 in January 2021. He was unconscious for a week. His wife, Sandra, couldn’t visit him due to COVID protocols, instead relegated to receiving updates from doctors.

“I was in really, really bad shape,” Abbott said. “(Sandra) was being told I was not responding. It didn’t look good.”

When Abbott finally regained consciousness, he wasn’t greeted by encouraging news. The doctor told him his kidneys were functioning at 5%, a low point after years of kidney problems that already placed him on the transplant waiting list. He went on dialysis, undergoing treatments three days a week for seven months.

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Enter Slick, whom Abbott never expected would become his saving grace. Abbott asked Slick, his pastor and a teacher in a small group at their church, to have lunch to discuss his health and how to address his situation with others in the congregation.

There came a moment both men considered divine intervention.

“Just off the top of my head, I said, ‘Man, tell me what your blood type is,’” Slick said. “He said O-negative. And you know, I don’t want to sound cheesy or overly dramatic, but something just clicked in me. I felt like this might be my opportunity to help somebody out.”

Abbott’s recollection: “We talked about the church, and then he just kind of blurted out without any forewarning, ‘So, Jack, I know your kidneys are in really bad shape. I have two kidneys. I’ll give you one of mine.’ Like, would you repeat that? He was saying it so matter-of-fact. It wasn’t matter-of-fact to me. And right after that, he says, ‘So, what’s your blood type?’ O-negative. Well, I’m O-negative. O-negative is not a common blood type. And off we went.”

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Slick returned home to discuss the consideration with his wife, Kathy, who’d lost both her parents due to COVID-19 in February 2021. She wasn’t sure if the couple was ready to go through another traumatic development, Slick said, but after conversation and prayer, they felt he needed to see whether the transplant was possible.

“To a certain extent, I think the finality of life was probably weighing on our minds,” Slick said. “Knowing what Jack was facing … the only thing that kept coming to my mind was, ‘If this was one of my family members, I would be begging somebody to be willing to do it.’ I couldn’t get past that. ... I watched what (Abbott) had gone through. When he got COVID, he was in the hospital, they didn’t know whether he was going to make it or not. All that, I think it just created the kind of mindset of, ‘If this is something I can do, why would I not do it?’ ”

The pastor contacted Piedmont Hospital and underwent detailed exams. In June, more misfortune struck when Slick’s father died (non-COVID-related health issues). On his way back from the funeral, Slick received the message from Piedmont that he was a match. “It was confirmation I was doing the right thing,” he said. The transplant occurred in August 2021.

“Almost a year later, I’m still trying to process what Jimmy has done for me,” Abbott said. “It’s just beyond my ability to grasp a hold of it. He and God have been with me, or I wouldn’t be here. I barely made (it through) COVID in January, and then my kidneys went, and here comes Jimmy. … It’s a blessing beyond what I deserve, to be where I am today thanks to Jimmy Slick.”

The pair sat together a day after the surgery and made a pact to run the Peachtree Road Race together in 2022.

Abbott was course director for the Peachtree Road Race for 21 years, retiring in 2019. This will mark his 48th Peachtree Road Race. Slick, meanwhile, has been running roughly 30 miles a week. He’s run 19 marathons (he plans to retire after No. 20).

“Almost a year later, I'm still trying to process what Jimmy (Slick) has done for me. It's just beyond my ability to grasp a hold of it. He and God have been with me, or I wouldn't be here."

- Jack Abbott, who received one of Slick's kidneys

“I probably won’t be as fast as I’ve been in the past, but we’re going to finish it,” Slick said. “(Abbott) said, ‘I don’t want to hold you back. I want you to just go on.’ I said, ‘No, we started this process together, and we’re going to finish it together.’ So we’re going to do the Peachtree and just celebrate that.”

Abbott added: “And we’ll get to the finish. There’ll be a lot of walking, but that’s OK.”

The race route will take the men by Piedmont Hospital, where they were bonded to a point that makes even Slick singing at Abbott’s wedding seem insignificant. The race, to them, signifies they made it through. This is their way to honor each other.

Abbott and Slick hope their story, one they consider the truest example of faith and timing, inspires others to donate.

“If we get one more donor, all that is worth it, because we’re so short on donors versus people needing a transplant,” Abbott said. “It’s not even close. It’s maybe 10-to-one. If we can get one more donor, this was worth it.”

Combined ShapeCaption
When Jack Abbott (left) needed a kidney after a serious bout with COVID-19, his pastor Jimmy Slick (right) volunteered to donate. The two have fully recovered and will run the Peachtree Road Race together.

Credit: Photo p

When Jack Abbott (left) needed a kidney after a serious bout with COVID-19, his pastor Jimmy Slick (right) volunteered to donate. The two have fully recovered and will run the Peachtree Road Race together.

Credit: Photo p

Combined ShapeCaption
When Jack Abbott (left) needed a kidney after a serious bout with COVID-19, his pastor Jimmy Slick (right) volunteered to donate. The two have fully recovered and will run the Peachtree Road Race together.

Credit: Photo p

Credit: Photo p