On Christmas Eve in 2001, an ill young woman visited a jewelry store in Tennessee with her family to pick out a blue topaz ring. Little did she know that the man who sized that ring would become her husband and fellow pastor in a town called Palm Coast, Fla., 12 years later.
The young woman was Kimberly. The now 35-year-old was born in Washington, N.C., to a churchgoing Pentecostal family. Upon graduating high school, she attended Beaufort Community College and went on to become a hair stylist.
But her plans were put on hold when a series of unfortunate events befell her.
In January 2000, she was hospitalized for flu-like symptoms, which later turned out to be thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP. The disease, which doctors attributed to bacteria from the floods of Hurricane Floyd, is a blood disorder that affects the platelets and damages organs.
The illness hit her with full force. Her kidneys were failing and her liver was shutting down. Her entire body was hemorrhaging.
“They did not think I was going to live,” she said. “I didn’t have any platelet count.”
To combat the disease, doctors proceeded to perform a plasma exchange, which meant giving Kimberly transplanted platelets.
But she relapsed.
A jewel and a first kidney
She then relocated to Morristown, Tenn. That’s when she was able to visit a mall with her family on one December day in 2001, when she bought her ring.
The man who sized it, the now 32-year-old Randy Rosenbalm, was a pastor working at the jewelry store part time. He was a friend of Kimberly’s family. When he was informed of her illness, he took her hand.
He prayed that wheelchair-bound Kimberly would find a kidney for the transplant she needed.
The two then parted ways — for the time being.
And perhaps the prayers were answered. After dialysis and chemotherapy treatments, Kimberly had found a transplant match.
“The Lord pulled me through it,” she said. “The doctors gave up on me a long time ago.”
In 2003, her mother donated Kimberly her first kidney.
Though things were looking a bit brighter afterward, darkness fell once again.
After Kimberly received a kidney biopsy, the doctor’s needle punctured her kidney’s main artery. It began shutting down. She needed a second transplant.
A familiar face
As she waited for a new match in 2007, she crossed paths with a familiar face, Randy, at church.
Randy, who was born and raised near Pigeon Forge, Tenn., did not grow up in a religious household. After completing high school studies, he attended community college and was later enrolled in physical therapy school.
During his time in college, he experimented with marijuana and cocaine and at times, he dealt drugs on the side. He said he was “anti-church.”
“I was out to prove that religion was a thing of the past,” he said.
But after some of his religious friends convinced him to attend a church drama about the crucifixion, Randy says he was “saved.”
After four weeks, he dropped out of the physical therapy program. He decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in pastoral and Biblical studies from Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn.
He married for the first time in 2003. His daughter, 8-year-old Annastey, was born while Randy was a director for pastoral students at a master’s commission in Baltimore.
He then went to work as a youth director in North Dakota, but moved back to Tennessee in 2007 after his first wife had an affair and left him and their daughter.
That’s where he reconnected with Kimberly.
A perfect match
After going to church and Bible study together, the two began dating. In 2008, they married.
But the fact that Kimberly needed another kidney still loomed.
Fortunately, Randy was a perfect donor match. On their one-year anniversary, he gave his wife the ultimate present — his life-saving left kidney.
“I was a closer match than a blood relative,” he said.
Soon after, the couple decided to work in ministry full time. They moved to Waycross, Ga., to work as associate pastors for two years.
But Randy wanted to start his own church, despite his wife’s hesitation.
“You have no support, you don’t know anybody,” he said. “You start from scratch.”
The couple decided to search for a new location. After driving through Palm Coast, they found their new town.
“We moved to Florida because of the spiritual climate of Palm Coast,” he said.
The family moved here in August 2012. Randy now works at Lowe’s and is a carpenter in addition to his pastoral ministry.
He and his wife started Refuge Church and held their first official service on May 5 in a Days Inn conference room. Since then, they have acquired 30 members, with about 12 volunteers assisting their mission.
Grace and healing
The church focuses on helping people in need, whether it is those struggling with addictions or single parents in tough times, and they will hold a healing service at 6 p.m. July 28, at the Days Inn in Palm Coast. Visit www.refugechurchfl.com.
And if anyone knows about the healing process, it’s Kimberly.
You would never guess this cheery, bright-eyed woman had ever endured surgeries and two kidney transplants.
“Everything just fell into place for us,” Kimberly said. “It made us stronger. We’re happy. I’m proud to be alive.”
Her husband agreed.
“She’s a walking miracle,” he said.