Published 12:00 am Friday, September 20, 2013

SPENCER — St. Patrick’s Day came early for Julia Peck and Arnold Ramzan.
Two years ago and only two weeks apart, Peck and Ramzan each received a new kidney, and to celebrate the gifts that gave them life, North Rowan Elementary School experienced a “Green Out” Thursday.
Staff members, teachers and students wore green as a happy sign of support for Peck, a pre-kindergarten teacher assistant, and Ramzan, a school custodian.
Just as pink is the color associated with breast cancer awareness, green is the national awareness color connected with kidney disease. Plenty of green ribbons and clothing showed up at school Thursday.
Close to 26 million Americans, or one in 10 people, have some level of chronic kidney disease. As for transplants, 17,736 kidney transplants were done in 2009, the last year for which complete statistics are available.
Peck wore a white and green T-shirt Thursday that said, “I contain recycled parts.” She usually wears a white surgical mask at school as a precaution against possible infections she might pick up in the school environment.
Peck’s kidney came from an anonymous donor Sept. 12, 2011. She had been on a waiting list five years, and without a new kidney, she faced going on dialysis at age 30.
After the successful transplant, Peck saw the disease-ridden kidneys removed from her body. They were like shriveled grapes, she said.
“All I know is the person was healthy and around 30-ish,” Peck added of her donor.
Three different people she knew had stepped up to offer Peck one of their kidneys: her mother, church friend Jody Blythe and VFW friend Cindy Winecoff. “All tried to donate but they had their own health issues,” she said.
A spiritual person, Peck said she tried not to fret about getting a new kidney as she was moved from the inactive to the active list.
“I always said, ‘God has a plan,’ ” she said.
Ramzan, 71, was on dialysis for only a week, when his daughter, Davina Smith, was determined to be a good kidney donor. His transplant came two weeks after Peck’s.
Ramzan, a custodian at North Rowan Elementary for about 12 years, had to take off six months after his surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Peck, now 32, missed four months of work. Her surgery was performed at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill.
Her parents, Bob and Suzie Houck, wore T-shirts Thursday that said, “I wear green for my daughter.”
A Marine, Bob Houck serves as a custodian at the elementary school. Suzie Houck, now retired, taught first grade in Maryland and Pennsylvania for 32 years.
“I took on the family business,” said Peck, who has been with Rowan-Salisbury Schools in some capacity for eight years.
With her new kidney, Peck has resumed an active life. She’s taking her last few courses at Catawba College toward becoming a teacher. She sings and plays the flute for the choir at John Calvin Presbyterian Church, serves as a Girl Scout leader and fills in for the VFW.
“I decided at the beginning the disease wasn’t going to run my life,” Peck said.
She was first diagnosed with kidney disease as a sophomore at Catawba College, where she earned a public relations degree. Her husband of 10 years, Daniel, has been part of her strong family support system, which has included her parents.
Peck said her friends at school have been like family, too. They include besties such as second-grade teacher Carrie Hood, who also helps her with Girl Scouts; pre-kindergarten teacher Halia Nash; and first-grade teacher Christy Trapp.
During Peck’s recovery from the kidney transplant and a two-week rehabilitation from a blood clot last year, Sandra Grant filled in for her at school.
“This is my go-to gal,” Peck said of Grant.
A resident of Granite Quarry, Ramzan works 30 hours a week at the school. Otherwise, he says he’s walking for exercise or mowing grass at his house, his daughter’s or his sister-in-law’s place.
While Peck dealt with a blood clot a year ago, Ramzan had blocked arteries, requiring the implant of two stents. As with Peck’s blood clot, it wasn’t related to the kidney transplant.
“I’m feeling real good, man,” Ramzan said Thursday, and he appreciated the school’s support.
“I love that they think about me and Julia. The staff is real great in here.”
As Peck greeted car riders Thursday morning, many of the children walking into school made sure she knew the green they were wearing was for her and Ramzan.
“It’s awesome,” Peck said of the Green Out. “… We’re a family. We’re not just a school and staff members.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or