‘Guardian angel’ at Hartsfield-Jackson: Colleague gives big, pays it forward

Filed in Employees, News by on November 22, 2016

By Anika Robertson
Senior Editor/Assistant Public Relations Manager

Take a moment to think about when you had a medical crisis or scare, whom did you turn to? A friend? Family member?

For Department of Aviation team member Maulana “MT” Tenney, kindness came in the form of Timothy Cinnamon, a colleague who stepped up not only to help, but also to give beyond measure.

“I wasn’t feeling good and thought it was a cold,” explained Tenney, a 20-year City of Atlanta employee with 10 years in the maintenance department. “When I went to the doctor, he told me, ‘You need to see a kidney specialist.’”

That’s when he discovered in December 2014 that his kidneys were functioning at 13 percent and required immediate dialysis.

When fear initially set in, the married father of three admitted he didn’t want the lifesaving treatment but his wife encouraged him.

“I was afraid, nervous [and] intimidated,” he said. “Just to hear the words, ‘You have to go to dialysis,’ it doesn’t sound good. I’m a praying man. I thought I would get better. I wanted my kidneys to start functioning again. “

Tenney took a monthlong leave of absence from the Department of Aviation to address his health issues. After initial hospitalization, he required kidney dialysis three times per week, each session lasting 3 ½ hours. Without a transplant, he would need to continue dialysis for the rest of his life.

His co-workers understood the severity of the situation, and some lifted his spirits with phone calls and text messages.

Cinnamon, who worked alongside Tenney for seven years on the fence maintenance crew, considered Tenney a friend. During that period, Cinnamon was young, new to the Department of Aviation and adapting to working with older, more experienced crew members.

“I was still in that learning process. MT taught me a lot. He was full-throttle,” Cinnamon said. “Being co-workers, we learned a lot about each other. [When] I went through some tough times, [he] and I got really close. One day, I called him up [upset]. He prayed with me for an hour. That stuck in my mind. He didn’t have to do that.”

The pair remained cordial after being reassigned to different areas in 2013, though daily interaction was limited.

Tenney continued his dialysis treatments through 2015. Since maintenance is a 24-hour unit, he was able to adjust his work schedule to accommodate kidney treatments.

He passed the time by reading, listening to music and talking to other patients while in the treatment center. Guided by his faith, he remained optimistic.

“I thank God for my faith,” he said. “This is a temporary situation I was going through, and I didn’t know how long [it would last]. I encouraged myself and I didn’t stop working. That’s what gave me the strength.”

Then one day in February, the unexpected happened. Cinnamon approached Tenney and offered his kidney.

“I thought he was joking,” Tenney recalled. “I didn’t think he was serious.”

But Cinnamon persisted, requesting his blood type and information on the donor process. After a month, Tenney realized the sincerity of the offer.

“I was still going to dialysis … working and doing what I had to do,” Tenney said. “Tim and I talked; he never wavered. He stepped in — my guardian angel.”

Cinnamon said some people questioned his decision, citing risks and complications.

“I had a one-track mind,” he said. “I am a man of my word. If you tell someone you’re going to do something, you do it.”

Although Cinnamon and Tenney realized they had different blood types, they discovered the Living Donor Program, facilitated through Emory Healthcare, which allows a healthy donor to donate their kidney. This in turn enables the desired recipient to receive a living organ compatible to his body. The donor’s kidney is then transported to a matching recipient.

After a battery of tests, both Tenney and Cinnamon were cleared for the program. They expected to wait six months to a year before the operations, but after four months, Tenney received a call from Emory Transplant Center to schedule his surgery, which took place this year on Sept. 29, the same day as Cinnamon’s.

Tenney’s kidney arrived from Los Angeles, while Cinnamon’s kidney went to Maryland. Both surgeries were conducted by the same medical team. Relieved to have his first major surgery behind him, Cinnamon remembered the feeling of triumph.

“Once out [of surgery], I shouted to MT, ‘We did it!’ It was a sigh of relief,” he said. “That was the greatest moment.”

Tenney explains the significance of his life-changing experience.

“Tim stepped in and gave me another chance at life,” he said. “I appreciate it and love him for that. By him giving and my receiving, now I can help some[one] else along with helping myself.”

Cinnamon borrowed six months of vacation time for his recovery and plans to return to the Department of Aviation right after Thanksgiving.

“I can’t complain,” he said. “I’m blessed.”

He wants Tenney to know that he shouldn’t feel indebted to him.

“It was a win-win situation,” he said. “I feel just as good to be able to do it as [MT] does to be able to receive. God allowed me to be there for him. I learned what teamwork was.”

Maulana "MT" Tenney and Timothy Cinnamon are all smiles before kidney surgeries.

Maulana “MT” Tenney and Timothy Cinnamon are all smiles before kidney surgeries.

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