Tag Archives: Religion and organ donation

A kidney for a guitar

Yesterday, February 27, I posted a message from Gerald Neufeld. As it turns out, the Canadian Mennonite magazine recently published an article about Gerald and me, written by Amy Dueckman.

A kidney for a guitar

‘Small steps of faith’ lead to organ donation

By Amy Dueckman, B.C. Correspondent
Abbotsford, B.C. | Feb 22, 2017 | Volume 21 Issue 5

geraldneufeld

Gerald Neufeld prepares to donate one of his kidneys in the Paired Kidney Exchange Program last year. (Photo courtesy of Gerald Neufeld)

Gerald Neufeld of B.C. and Russ Sawatsky of Ontario have several things in common: they both served as missionaries in Japan, where they met their wives; and they both attended Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg at the same time. But the donation of a kidney for one and the receiving of a kidney for the other gives the two a life-transforming connection like no other.

Neufeld, pastor of Mennonite Japanese Christian Fellowship in Surrey, also serves part-time as music coordinator of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford. One Sunday morning in November 2012, his 12-string guitar was stolen from Emmanuel as he was preparing to lead a worship team. He shared the loss as a prayer concern at a Vancouver pastors’ meeting. In response, the pastor from First United Spanish Mennonite Church said he knew one of his members had a 12-string guitar he wasn’t using. The member offered Neufeld the guitar at no cost, and he gratefully received it. Another request that later came from the pastors group was that someone from the Spanish church needed a kidney transplant.

Meanwhile, Sawatsky had been struggling for years with kidney failure and blogging about his journey (see kidneyforruss.wordpress.com). He went on medical disability leave when he began dialysis in 2014.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

If, like Gerald, you are interested in living organ donation, this link includes general information about both kidney and liver donations.

You can also register as a deceased organ donor by following the links or the contact information on this site for the province or territory where you reside.

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A Message from a Living Kidney Donor

A few months ago in the post, A Somewhat Oddly Timed Thanksgiving, I mentioned Gerald Neufeld, who donated a kidney on my behalf as part of the Paired Kidney Donation (a.k.a. Living Donor Paired Exchange) program. I had mentioned in that post that Gerald had been a missionary in Japan. These days Gerald continues to be involved in church ministries in two part-time roles, one as pastor of a small Japanese congregation in Surrey, BC, and the other as the music coordinator for Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, BC. On February 12, he shared the following message at Emmanuel:

Faith, Christian Community, and Kidney Donation

Galatians 6:1-10

I’d like to tell you a bit about my experience in donating a kidney a number of months ago. Most of this message will be about my experience. Many people think that it must have been a huge decision for me, but I really felt like it was just a number of small steps of faith. God has blessed me with great health, a supportive family, and a wonderful church community. In deciding to take steps to donate a kidney I felt like I was just responding to God for all the blessings I’ve received…

If you read the article I wrote in the Emmanuel newsletter you would have seen how I decided to donate. Rather than it being one huge step of faith, it really felt like a lot of little things, pieces of a puzzle that came together. As I reflect on this, I realize how much community has been woven through the whole process.

In Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia he tells them to “Bear one another’s burdens…” Here, he’s likely talking about helping people who are of bearing the burden that results from sin and the consequences of sin, but the burdens that we can help each other with could be anything that takes away from the joy in living our faith – sickness, difficulty finding work, struggles in relationships, uncertainty about the future… I’m not going to get into a lot more detail here but I thought this passage fits well with the role of the faith community in everyday life. A big part of bearing one another’s burdens involves prayer, and as I look back on my experience it’s interesting how the prayers and support of our faith community played such a major role.

At a Vancouver pastor’s meeting, when I first heard a prayer request for a man who was dying because his kidneys were failing, I began to not only pray for him, but I also thought, “Would it work for me to actually donate a kidney?” I began praying to see if God may be leading me this way. Didn’t John the Baptist say “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none”? I figured I have two healthy kidneys, I guess maybe I could share with someone who has none (at least none that are functioning well)! I remember my wife Rie’s initial reaction. “I hope it doesn’t work out for you to do it!” She was quite worried! But then, she also began to pray about it and soon she was strongly supporting me, I think because she sensed that maybe God was leading me in this direction. I did lots of research, and found out that most people who donate a kidney have no problems afterward and can live a normal life. You don’t need any special medication or anything, and the only restriction I have now is that they advise against skydiving. (I’ve never figured out why)…

I read in the Canadian Mennonite magazine about another pastor who donated a kidney, and had no problems, so I decided to take another step and begin the donation process. I had to go through many tests in order to make sure I was healthy enough to donate. If any tests showed a danger of health problems in the future, I would not have been allowed to continue the process. It was at this point that I heard the one to whom I’d possibly donate a kidney, was from the same family that had given me a guitar several months earlier! When my 12-string guitar had been stolen I had put out a prayer request during one of the pastor’s meetings, hoping someone may know about a good deal on buying another guitar, and one pastor suggested he could check with a church member who has a 12-string guitar that was hardly ever used. Right away, I heard that I could have it. Now, this was the same family praying for a kidney! I had already pretty much decided to start the process to donate, but this helped confirm my decision. If they gave me a guitar, I guess I could give them a kidney! Since I wasn’t compatible with the person who needed the kidney, I joined a special program where other incompatible donors and recipients are matched. So, between 2, 3, or 4 incompatible pairs people could be matched so that each person can indirectly donate or receive. It usually takes several months, but before we were matched, the other person actually received a kidney from a deceased donor. I then wondered if God was saying, OK, you don’t have to donate anymore. But by that time, I had heard about a different friend who needed a kidney, so I decided to stay on the list in order to donate for him. Why not? I was all ready to donate! Russ Sawatsky is a friend I’d met in Japan. We’d both been mission workers there, and had met several times. Now, Russ is living with his family in Ontario… After much waiting, we were finally matched and we each had surgery.

To have surgery, I wasn’t too scared because I felt that God had led me to this decision. Of course there was a potential that there may be some complication, but I felt that even if I ended up with some major problem, God would continue to lead me through. I sensed your prayers as well as the prayers of many others in my wider community of family and friends.

Through this whole process, I didn’t let myself think too much about possible things that could go wrong (‘cause I didn’t want to chicken out!) (even though the chances of anything terrible happening were quite slim). I expected everything to go smoothly, but there were a few unexpected things that happened, reminding me that this was a complex process. I guess one thing is that the whole process took longer than I expected. When I first called the number of the “Pre-Assessment Transplant Clinic,” I gave them my email address, and they then sent me all the information I needed to get started in the process. I was thinking in my head that once I called that number, I was committing myself to donate, and would probably have surgery within a few weeks. It could have happened in a couple of months, but in the end, it was over a year later that everything finally worked out. During the process there were many opportunities for me to decide to opt out if I wanted. The staff were very careful to make sure I didn’t feel obligated to continue if I suddenly felt uncomfortable about the whole thing.

After the surgery, I was a bit surprised that it was somewhat more challenging than I had expected. There was no time when I felt all that much pain. At home, though, I took the maximum recommended dosage of painkillers because I wanted to be able to sleep, but it had the opposite effect. My mind went into a panic and I was not able to sleep for over 30 hours! It was a strange feeling, and at times I thought I might die. I prayed quite a bit during that time, committing to God, but physically my mind could not stop racing. After that I didn’t take any more painkillers and I actually don’t think I needed them. I’m glad that the weird effects only lasted about a day, and I’m thankful for all your prayers during my recovery. It was quite meaningful for me to know that I am a part of a larger faith community. It wasn’t just my own prayers that gave me strength, as I’ve mentioned before. You have been participating as well.

In the scripture passage read today, Paul not only encourages the people to bear one another’s burdens, he also says that everyone must carry their own loads. This might seem to be contradictory, but the meaning is different. We are to support and encourage each other along the way, but everyone must also take responsibility for their own actions. Someday, we’ll each have to give an account of how well we lived with what God has given us. The good news is that we are already children of God, part of God’s Kingdom through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us on the cross.

Today’s passage from Galatians ends with the encouragement to do what is right, not giving up, and whenever we have the opportunity, to “work for the good of all, especially those of the family of faith.” We all have chances to take a step of faith in some area. It doesn’t have to be organ donation. Maybe God is calling you to commit to give a greater percentage of your money to help others. Or maybe you are being called to give of your time, or something else in a different area. It may be a bit scary, but if you take just a small step of faith, you will see what God can do! And the one step may lead to another and another! I actually did a lot of calculating before deciding to donate a kidney, but I’m trying to trust more and more in God’s leading so that I can take more steps in the direction I feel God leading, even if I haven’t calculated and weighed all the possibilities. Sometimes I end up waiting too long before taking a step of faith, but with the support and encouragement of believers around me I’m learning to trust our Lord, more and more. Our steps of faith may be wobbly like a baby learning to walk. We’ll sometimes fall, but like a loving parent, I believe God is pleased to see us keep trying.

The great thing is that we are not alone in taking our steps. We are part of a faith community. How do we bear one another’s burdens? Here in Canada, we value independence. We teach kids to stand on their own, and take their own responsibility. We make sure we are doing the right thing, and it doesn’t matter so much how others are doing. But, when I lived in Japan I saw a different culture where the emphasis was much more on the community. The needs of the group take priority over individual needs. In Japan people are taught to think about the needs of others before their own. I sometimes notice this cultural difference between my wife and me. She’s criticised my driving because I’ve often failed to let others into my lane. My driving style is to mainly make sure I am following the rules, and others can do what they want, but in Japan people are taught to consider others, even when driving. I think we can learn something from them in this area.

It’s so easy to go through life with blinders on (like a horse). Sometimes horses have blinders on each side of their head so they don’t get distracted and can focus straight ahead. Instead, I’m trying to take more notice of what’s happening around me. It’s not good to just focus on my own situation all the time. Is there some area where you’ve noticed a need? Maybe it’s time to step into the situation in order to offer help in bearing another’s burden, so to speak.

All through the process of my experience, I’ve sensed the work of the wider faith community — after losing my guitar, in my request for prayer at the pastor’s meeting, the request for prayer when someone needed a kidney, the prayers and support from you as well as family and friends in other places, as I underwent surgery, the prayers and support as I took time off work. Community played a role as I learned through the Canadian Mennonite magazine about the other pastor who donated a kidney. And, my connection with Russ Sawatsky through mission work and the wider Mennonite community was another area where community played a role. It’s good to hear that Russ is now doing well, and also the person who directly received my kidney here in BC. I also feel pretty much back to normal.

So, what about each of us, in our lives? Where might God be leading us to take a small step of faith? Jesus said we only need faith the size of a tiny mustard seed. The reason is, God recognizes our little attempts to be faithful, and brings us the rest of the way. Each of us are called to really just take a small step. It usually involves some risk. Maybe God is calling you to take a step. Many people have already signed a donor card. It can easily be done online, and even kids can sign up. A link is provided in the bulletin, but you can also just do a search for “BC Transplant.” Someone who has registered a decision to donate any organs needed, after death, could potentially save the lives of eight different people. Or, some of us may feel a calling to sometime become a live donor. Recently, I was amazed to hear that if you donate a part of your liver, it grows back! If I’d known that, maybe I should have done a liver donation rather than kidney! No… I have no regrets. Maybe someday I’ll consider the liver. But, one thing is becoming more and more clear to me. I think I may never have experienced donating a kidney if it hadn’t been for the supportive community and the encouragement I experienced in the small steps along the way.

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, you have blessed us with so much! Thank-you for all you’ve given us. Thank-you that through your Son, Jesus we have perfect peace and joy. Thank-you for the gift of your church. Each day, you lead us, O Lord. Thank-you that no matter what happens around us we need not fear, because you walk with us. Help us to trust that you always provide us with everything we need to do your will. Increase our generosity, that we may rely more and more on you and less and less on ourselves. Grant us the courage to step out in faith. Help us to notice those areas where you call us to step in and help bear another’s burden. May we recognise the opportunities you give us to take those small steps of faith, through the power of Christ at work within us, Amen.

I am getting a kidney transplant!

Amazing news! A little over a week ago, the transplant coordinator here at the London Health Sciences Centre called to tell me rather cryptically that they were “working on something” (I may be paraphrasing slightly). Then in a series of phone calls last week, I was informed that a match had been found locally thanks to an undesignated donor who had stepped forward and set some “dominoes tumbling.” Among those dominoes was my own.

'I'll see you kidney and raise you my liver.'

‘I’ll see you kidney and raise you my liver.’ (I wonder if by “working on something” they meant this…)

The context of this news is quite amazing because just last month in June, I had participated in the fourth nationwide Paired Kidney Donation program. And again, no match had been found for me. I was beginning to settle into the idea that I might continue with dialysis for several more years. Now, virtually all of a sudden, I am preparing for a transplant.

What happens next? Beginning early tomorrow morning (Monday, July 18) I will begin a series of tests and other appointments to update some of my medical information that is a bit out of date two years after the initial tests. One of my two friends in British Columbia will likely be donating at around the same time, too. I don’t have all the details about that side of things, but I understand that, potentially, the recipient in BC is someone with high immune sensitivity, such that finding a suitable donor is quite difficult.

Assuming all goes well, the donating and receiving parties are willing and healthy, on Friday, July 29, I will be getting a new kidney from a living donor. This is the ideal situation because kidneys from living donors tend to have a longer life (15-20 years) compared to an organ from a deceased donor (10-15 years) and they usually have fewer problems starting up once the transplant is complete.

Following the transplant, I will remain hospitalized for five to seven days before being released back to my home. That means I will spend the August long weekend civic holiday in the hospital. It’s a “sacrifice” I’m willing to make.

Thereafter, I will be attending frequent clinics. There will of course be a new drug regimen for me, particularly to do with anti-rejection drugs so that my body and my new kidney play nice with each other. This is no minor matter as I was told in no uncertain terms that taking those drugs at the prescribed time is imperative. I have every intention of complying!

My emotions have been all over the place in the last few days. The anticipation of freedom from dialysis, the realization that in a short while I won’t have to plug into a machine at night and unplug in the morning, is quite overwhelming at times. The palpable enthusiasm of the transplant coordination staff with whom I have been speaking on the phone these last few days is also quite something that I’m not sure I have words to describe. But throughout this experience, I have always felt like the medical teams that have been caring for me have uniformly treated me like a person, as much more than a statistic, even though nephrology is a medical discipline that is largely driven by the analysis of medical data. I am very grateful.

Most importantly, I think of the commitment shown by my friends in BC and this undesignated donor locally who have responded to a need in a remarkably selfless manner, and who, because of their commitment to this task, will have changed the lives of many people.

I will keep you posted as the day approaches. To those who read this, thank you as well for your words of encouragement, by whatever means. This morning, I shared this good news in church, and everyone clapped! (We’re not generally all that big on clapping in our church…). It feels good to have that kind of broad support from the various communities to which I belong: church, friends, social media connections, etc. And, if you are inclined to pray, I welcome that, too. Thank you.

When You Register as an Organ Donor, Tell Your Family

Despite the fact that 90 percent of the Canadian population is in favour of organ and tissue donation, less than 20 percent have registered as donors. Since our deaths come about in a variety of ways, not every death will result in a situation where transplantable organs become available. It is therefore rather disheartening to read that family members are blocking organ donations from their deceased relatives even though the deceased has registered as an organ donor.

Unfortunately, that is the story presented in an article in The Toronto Star.  I invite you to read the article below and then, if you have not done so already, register as an organ donor (in Ontario at http://beadonor.ca/). Once you have registered, please tell your loved ones of your decision, so that, if a tragedy occurs, they will know what to do when they are approached about confirming your desire to be an organ donor.

Mourning families increasingly blocking organ donations of loved ones

Requiring consent of the family proves an obstacle to helping Ontarians on waiting list for a transplant.

Colin Arnott gladly reaffirmed the organ donation consent of his brother Ken, who died following a massive stroke in 2013. In his hands is a photo of the brothers in one of their last races together. (STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR)

Colin Arnott gladly reaffirmed the organ donation consent of his brother Ken, who died following a massive stroke in 2013. In his hands is a photo of the brothers in one of their last races together. (STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR)

By MICHAEL ROBINSON Staff Reporter

Thu., June 16, 2016

Grieving families are blocking the organ donations of one in five Ontarians who registered to donate before they died, the Star has learned.

Data obtained by the Star from the Trillium Gift of Life Network reveals how often opportunities for potentially life-saving transplants are lost because of family objections — a number that has steadily risen over the past three years.

Whitby’s Colin Arnott said he was “surprised” when asked by Trillium representatives to “reaffirm” the consent of his brother, a registered donor who died following a stroke in 2013.

“They told us Ken had signed his donor card — I didn’t know he had — and asked us if it was true those were his wishes,” he said. “I was surprised why they were asking us to affirm his decision if he already filled out the forms and signed his donor card.”

Like the majority of families, Arnott gave the go-ahead for his relative’s donation to move forward. Yet provincial data shows the number of cases where families step in to quash a loved one’s donation is rising.

In 2013, the province’s organ and transplant registrar recorded 14.5 per cent of families (representing 26 registered donors) who refused consent, a number that climbed to 21.1 per cent (62 donors) last year.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

New Procedure Allows Kidney Transplants From Any Donor

I’m reposting this article from the New York Times. Thanks to Teresa Thompson Sherrill for passing this on to me.

This procedure still appears to be at the experimental stage and is therefore not widely available. However, I am reminded once again that medical science continues to make progress in the world of organ transplantation. Even though there is an element of waiting in limbo while I continue on peritoneal dialysis, I have reason to believe that the outcome of a kidney transplant in the future will likely be better than that same transplant done in the past.

Here’s the article. Read it and be encouraged.

New Procedure Allows Kidney Transplants From Any Donor

Clint Smith, at home in New Orleans, had a procedure that altered his immune system to allow his body to accept a kidney from an incompatible donor. It “changed my life,” he said. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

Clint Smith, at home in New Orleans, had a procedure that altered his immune system to allow his body to accept a kidney from an incompatible donor. It “changed my life,” he said. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

In the anguishing wait for a new kidney, tens of thousands of patients on waiting lists may never find a match because their immune systems will reject almost any transplanted organ. Now, in a large national study that experts are calling revolutionary, researchers have found a way to get them the desperately needed procedure.

In the new study, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, doctors successfully altered patients’ immune systems to allow them to accept kidneys from incompatible donors. Significantly more of those patients were still alive after eight years than patients who had remained on waiting lists or received a kidney transplanted from a deceased donor.

The method, known as desensitization, “has the potential to save many lives,” said Dr. Jeffery Berns, a kidney specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the president of the National Kidney Foundation.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

The moral case for paying kidney donors

I’m reposting this from article from The Washington Post. While the numbers come from the US context, the reality of shortages of donor kidneys is equally applicable in Canada. Establishing a market for organs would be a radical decision, fraught with moral implications, and as the author notes, the “moral framework [of economists] tends to be somewhat blind to non-utilitarian considerations.

The moral case for paying kidney donors

By Scott Sumner, December 30

Scott Sumner is a professor of economics at Bentley University and director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center.

A recent study in the American Journal of Transplantation just reached what to many people may be a shocking conclusion: Taxpayers would be able to save thousands of lives and about $12 billion per year if the government started compensating people for kidney donations. According to the study, “these numbers dwarf the proposed $45,000-per-kidney compensation that might be needed to end the kidney shortage and eliminate the kidney transplant waiting list.” For economists who have long advocated for the creation of a market of organ transplants, this news is not surprising.

Shortages occur when regulations hold prices below equilibrium — that is, where the demand of a product and supply of a product meet. Often the result is simply inconvenience, as with the shortage of apartments in New York or the long gas lines in the 1970s.

But in terms of kidneys for transplantation, regulations lead to more than an inconvenience. The prohibition of payment to organ donors has led to a kidney shortage leading to the preventable loss of 5,000 to 10,000 lives each year. The cost of treating people with kidney disease is so high that an organ transplant market would not merely save lives, but would actually save money as well. According to the study, “the net benefit from saving thousands of lives each year and reducing the suffering of 100,000 more receiving dialysis would be about $46 billion per year, with the benefits exceeding the costs by a factor of 3.” Given this “win-win” situation, why hasn’t an organ market been created?

The main reason is that many people find the idea to be morally repugnant. Yet the two most common arguments against paying people for organ donations are both flawed.

Click here to read more.

Grateful for Incredible Friends…and So Much More

At the beginning of this year, a friend of mine in British Columbia (BC) offered to be a living donor of a kidney to me. As it turned out, his blood type was not compatible with mine (I’m Type O) so we both entered the Living Donor Paired Exchange (LDPE) program. The first run in June did not yield a match. The next run of the program will be in October.

To my great surprise and joy, recently another friend from BC contacted me after hearing about my situation and offered to be a living donor as well. He also is not compatible, but his entry into the LDPE program on my behalf certainly wouldn’t hurt, and might actually help with finding a matching donor.

This morning in church, I heard a sermon about gratefulness in the Psalms, based on the recurring theme of chesed (khesed or hesed), God’s loving-kindness. While I suppose I could choose to lament my circumstances (and there are psalms of lament as well), for me gratitude overwhelms lament. Yes, I have this nasty disease which has caused a significant disruption to my life, but there are all kinds of things for which I’m grateful. I don’t cry out to God, “Why did you let this happen to me?!” Instead, I’m grateful that my health held up much longer than originally anticipated (30 years before I started dialysis, rather than 10-15), I happened to have a job that allowed me to go on disability for very nearly the same amount of income as when I was working, I have this incredible health care system in which the staff really do seem to care, I have a device and materials supplied at no charge to me which keeps my health at a pretty good level, all things considered, and I have friends willing to donate a kidney on my behalf. I also have friends and family who ask about me, who pray for me, and who keep me in their thoughts. When I think about these things, I realize that I am rich beyond my imaginings.

Thank you for your support.