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I didn't really need to ask God if this was something that I should do
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By Amy Anthony

THE KIDNEY ADVENTURE

Six months ago, our neighbor Dave from around the corner, came down to our house to tell us that his daughter Rachel had been diagnosed with end stage kidney failure. Rachel needed a kidney transplant. And in the moment, I had a feeling that I would be her donor.

That was the beginning of a journey that has united our families for life. Over the past several months, I have gone through medical testing and interviews and this week we found out that I can be Rachel’s kidney donor! I’m so thankful for the love and support from those who have been praying for Rachel and I since the beginning of this journey and as we get closer to the surgery (and now that we know for sure I can be the donor), I want to share a bit of our journey with you.

Rachel's Diagnosis:

On the first day of Rachel's sophomore year at Harrison High School, her parents were given the news that she was suffering from kidney failure, a condition discovered during a routine sports physical for girls golf. That same evening Rachel was admitted to Peyton Manning Children's Hospital in Indianapolis under the care of Doctor Daniel McKenney, a pediatric nephrologist. Tests and scans were conducted through the night, and by midmorning Dr. McKenney informed Rachel and her parents that she had end-stage kidney failure.

Her kidney function was approximately 13% and her kidneys were the size of that of a one year-old; a condition that Rachel has been living with since infancy. Dr. McKenney then explained that Rachel would need a kidney transplant in a matter of months.

Rachel was listed on the National Kidney Registry and began the wait for a donor organ. Recipients on the waiting list are given a number from 1-5 with 1 being "not as urgent" and 5 being the most "urgent" and Rachel was given a 5.

Becoming a Donor:

The first step was making sure Rachel and I were a blood type match…and I found out that we were. At this point I hadn't talked to Rachel's parents about being a donor, I just wanted to know if we were even a match.

Before I even had time to think about being a donor, we were also told that because of her young age, the surgeon was looking for a younger donor, which knocked me out (ouch).

So I continued to pray for Rachel and that a donor would come forward but it seemed like that was the end of the road for me…at least that's what I thought.

A couple of months later, I was asking a mutual friend how Rachel was doing, and I found out that the age restriction for the donor had been raised since she hadn't gotten a kidney and her condition was getting worse. That night I started talking to Brad about donating my kidney. He was understandably concerned but we decided that I would take the next step and see what happened. I called Rachel’s transplant coordinator and after a preliminary phone interview she said that I could move on to the next stage of testing. The next step would be to read a BIG packet of transplant information that I would receive in the mail and then decide if I wanted to get the tissue testing done.

A few days later, I got the information packet and stuck it in my computer bag. I had only shared with a few people that I was considering the transplant and I didn't want to read the material with my kids around. My daily schedule is so crazy that days turned into a few weeks and I still hadn’t read the packet. Finally, at a dentist appointment, when I had an uninterrupted 30 minutes awaiting my dental torture (I hate going to the dentist!!), I pulled out the packet to read it through. When the dentist came into the room I quickly put the packet away but I guess not quickly enough because he asked me if I was giving someone a kidney. He then introduced me to one of the hygienists at his office who had given a kidney a few months ago and she and I chatted for almost half an hour. She answered so many of my questions and I left feeling much more excited about the opportunity to be a donor. Plus, she was a Christian and we had a lot in common - - it was very cool! It was just the nudge that I needed to take the next step.

Brad and I talked some more and I talked to my kids, my parents and my brother and sisters. I know that I should say that I prayed about it (which I did), but I didn't really need to ask God if this was something that I should do. He felt like he had already told me through the Bible and through the example of Jesus that I am supposed to love my neighbor and for me, this was a way that I could do that. So I called the coordinator and told her I was ready for the tissue testing. Within a week I found out that I was also a tissue match (but I wasn't surprised). So Brad and I talked some more and again, I talked with my kiddos, my family, close friends and my small group. There was definitely some mixed reactions (from "you're crazy..which we already know…to "we're nervous but we support you" to "awesome — go for it"). I found out from the coordinator that once I moved to the next step of testing, I would be the only donor they were working up. Every time we talked, she would remind me that I could back out at any time, but I felt that if I was going to take the next step, I had to be sure. I didn't want to take the spot of someone else who could be a possible donor.

Because this next step seemed like the biggest, I took a little longer to call back the coordinator. But then something happened to give me the next nudge that I needed. One night I got an email from Dave that he, Sue and Rachel were on the way to Indy for a transplant. A cadaver kidney was available and it seemed like a huge answer to their prayers.

I could sense the excitement in his email and immediately started praying. But an hour later I got another email saying that they were on their way home because the cadaver kidney was damaged. It was a roller coaster for them! The next few days I thought about it a lot and prayed for wisdom and courage. I Googled everything I could find on kidney transplants and read a lot of blogs (not the smartest decision). I called my dental hygienist friend and talked through some more of my questions and concerns. Once again, she reassured me with her personnel story. The next day I called the coordinator and told her I was ready to take the next step into the final testing stage. At this point, I probably should have just started wearing a hospital gown under my winter coat because they ran me through every test in the book to make sure that I was healthy enough to be a donor. I had multiple appointments with several different doctors.

They had already determined I was a match so they weren’t testing for that anymore. Now it was…do my kidney's function well?... are my blood levels ok? … is my family history ok? I had x-rays, an echocardiogram, ultrasounds, a CT Scan and even had a psychological exam (which I surprisingly passed!). With each test I passed, I got closer and closer. The highlight of the testing process was carrying around my big orange jug to collect all of my urine for 24 hours only to return it to the lab to find out it was supposed to be refrigerated and I had to collect it all over again (sorry to my wonderful coworkers who had to put up with the jug in our fridge!!).

Sharing the News with Rachel

Up until the last few weeks of testing, I hadn't talked to Rachel and her parents about the possibility of being her donor. I didn't want to get their hopes up before I passed all of my testing. But as the weeks passed, Rachel's kidney function dropped from 13% to 8% and I knew from talking to Dave that her doctors were seriously considering putting her on dialysis.

Everything I had heard so far was that it was so much better for her to get the transplant before dialysis so, knowing I was close, Brad and I invited Dave down to let him know that I was close to being able to be her donor. He wanted us to tell Rachel, so we did, and like any rational teenager, she was excited to be getting a Canadian kidney!! ('cause everyone knows Canadian kidneys are awesome!).

We had the privilege of going to the Hoops for Hope fundraiser that Harrison High School and West Side High School organized to raise money for Rachel and to raise awareness for organ donation. I got to meet her uncle and we all went out for dinner after the game.

The more time I spent with Rachel, the more excited I was to be her donor. I really wasn't even nervous anymore and I realized that if my next tests came back that I couldn't be her donor, I would be disappointed and not relieved.

The Home Stretch

My final test was my CT scan. This was the test the doctors said eliminate about 8-10% of donors. My CT scan showed a 4"x6" cyst on one of my ovaries. I was disappointed that I wasn't automatically cleared as a donor and anxiously waited for my follow up test a week later to check the cyst. The following week, I had an ultrasound and the OB signed off on me going to surgery. Now all that was left was for the surgical team at IU/Riley to review all of our charts and our requested surgery date and approve it.

That meeting happened today, March 5th and as of 1pm, Rachel and I are officially on the surgical schedule for March 22nd, 2013! My kidney will be removed at IU in Indianapolis and taken to Rachel at Riley in Indianapolis where her surgeon will add it to the two kidneys she already has. There is a lot more I want to say about why I made this decision, but because so many people are waiting on me to share the results of today's meeting…I'm going to post Part One of our Kidney Adventure and post Part Two tomorrow!

Thank you for your prayers and support!!

THE KIDNEY ADVENTURE PART TWO

If you made it through Part One, you know that it was mostly about the "whats" and "whens" and "hows" of this kidney adventure. Part Two is going to be more about the "whys".

I'm more nervous to write this part of my story for a few reasons.

First, I'm much more comfortable with sarcasm and jokes than I am with all the serious stuff.

Second, everything in my head always sounds a thousand times better than it does when I try to get it out of my head.

And third, I have a phobia of sounding self-righteous and preachy…when what I really want is to share my love for God and my desire to follow the example of Jesus. But who knows when the next time will be that this many people are willing to read something I write? - - and I suppose donating a kidney earns you the right to be a little serious for a page or two right? So here we go.

I grew up in a Christian home but a lot of people can say that… the difference is that I grew up in a home where my parents really lived their daily lives like Jesus taught in the New Testament. I have memories of random people living with us, giving away stuff (even though we didn’t have much), and it seemed like my parents were always putting other people's needs above their own. I suppose it's hard wired into me to see opportunities where God can use me…I'm not saying that I always do what I think God wants me to do…but when I heard about Rachel needing a kidney, I immediately thought "I could do that".

Several people have asked me how I knew that God wanted me to give my kidney to Rachel. I didn't hear any whisper or get a big sign. For me, it's more about discovering who God is by reading the Bible, prayer, and studying the life of Jesus, and then trying to do what seems to be in line with God's character (that said, I have really screwed up the implementation of that many, many times!!). There's a verse in Luke that says "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry". Jesus also teaches us to "love your neighbor as yourself". Now I don’t think that means everyone should give away one kidney (and truth be told, I have about 20 coats in my closet — just ask Brad!!) But those verses tell me that God’s plan for us on earth is to help others when we can, and not just when it's easy. If Ben or Sophie needed a kidney, I would give it to them in a second. So maybe loving my neighbor as myself means understanding that God loves my neighbor's child even more than I love my kids and as a follower of God, He can use me to show them His love.

There's another lesson that I have learned these past few weeks and it has to do with the similarities between the gift of giving a kidney and the gift of salvation that God gives us…. Don't freak out… in no way am I comparing myself to God.

But there are things that I have learned about giving and accepting a gift that have helped me to understand God in a deeper way and I want to share it in case it helps others understand Him more too.

Just like Rachel needs a gift of a kidney to live, we need the gift of God’s salvation to live eternally and to live life to the fullest here on earth. Since I have told Dave and Sue about my decision to give Rachel my kidney, they understandably feel grateful but also probably a bit overwhelmed — it's a big gift to accept from someone who is just a neighbor. There really isn’t anything that they can do to "pay" me back. They want to do things for Brad and I but honestly, the offers of "payback" take away from it being a gift. This is the main thing that has hit me the past few weeks. When I try to "do" stuff for God to earn His gift, it takes away from the giver. The Bible says that while we were sinners, Jesus died for us. It wasn't because we deserved it. There isn't anything we can do to pay Him back. And when we try, Jesus becomes less of a gift and more a reward. God gives us His gift of Jesus, His love, and an eternity with Him in heaven and He just wants us to accept it. The joy is in the giving. The idea that have to become worthy before accepting the gift takes away from the beauty of the gift and the Giver. I'm not giving Rachel my kidney because I hunted around for the most worthy person to receive my kidney. Even though Rachel is a talented, kind, creative young lady, my decision to give her my kidney was based more on who I was than on who she was. God's gift of Jesus isn't something that we deserve or that He gave us because of who we are, it was because of who He is.

So many people have offered to help my family or Rachel's family during the time following the surgery and I am so thankful for that (and I'm sure Brad and I will have to take many of you up on your offers!!) but what would mean the most to me is knowing that my story has pointed people to God, to accept His unconditional love, and has encouraged them to follow Jesus in loving their neighbor…both their actual neighbors and their "neighbors" all around the world (this would be a great time for me to make a shameless plug for the well projects at Calvary - - www.calvarybc.net/wellprojects or the upcoming 5k to benefit the International Justice Mission www.calvarybc.net/ijm5k) Lastly, I have an uncle who lost his life on the mission field serving God. The verse on his tombstone was Philippians 1:21. For the past 20 years, that verse has been my life verse. It inspires me and I hope that it inspires you too. Live for Christ…there is no better way.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21

April 15, 2013 An update…

The pictures includes just one of the many cards she received from her friends. This one tells her how family and friends had collected money to build a well in Honduras through Living Wells International.

Honduras is a country of special interest to Amy's family as her sister Heather had participated in a Missions Trip to rural Honduras in the year before she died in a motorcycle accident in 1997.

Interestingly as you will read in the card it was World Water Day this year on March 22nd which was the day that the kidney donation took place. That was not planned of course.

Amy is recovering well. Rachel has needed to be re-hospitalized for a time to help her body adjusting to the new kidney as she is having trouble staying hydrated enough but hopefully things will continue to improve. She has been able to drink and eat more.

To all readers of Christian Life in London, please pray for Amy and Rachel. We will certainly keep you updated on this wonderful story.

Thank you - Dale and Janet Mackness for sharing this story of this selfless journey of your beautiful daughter Amy.