I was getting desperate. For two long years I had been waiting, hoping, and praying for a kidney donor. My kidneys were failing because of various medications that I take due to a heart transplant in 1997. Dialysis had not yet been necessary, but each month it came closer and closer.
Twenty-one people had volunteered to donate a kidney, but each was rejected. Some had high blood pressure, some took the wrong kind of medication, and some had other problems that prevented their donation. There was a mixed blessing in this because while I did not have a donor, each volunteer discovered something about himself or herself that needed attention.
I was on medical leave from the Methodist Church that my wife and I founded twenty years ago. We had reconciled ourselves to the fact that I probably would need dialysis and that a kidney transplant was not likely to happen.
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and diverticulitis while waiting, both of which had to be corrected prior to transplantation. Thankfully, I was cleared after receiving treatment. I have a tremendous respect for women since part of my prostate treatment was harmone therapy and I learned all about hot flashes.
Then a remarkable thing happened. A friend from our church called and said that he had good news. A kidney donor had showed up at church. We could hardly wait to talk to this godsend, so we made an appointment. At the appointed time, we met Allen Smithfield (not his real name). Allen was homeless and had showed up at the church looking for a job. The day he showed up the church secretary was in the office alone and refused to let him in. He came back repeatedly and each time she refused to let him in. After several attempts at gaining entrance, he returned when the pastor was in. Allen pled his case and was given a part time job.
Allen had no place to live so he was allowed to stay in the church bus and then eventually in the church community center. As soon as Allen heard that I needed a kidney, he said, “That is why God sent me here; I have that man’s kidney”. We talked for a while and Allen began to tell us about his past. He grew up in a ghetto in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a child, Allen had been abused sexually and physically. He grew up in the street from the time he was very young. Allen started abusing alcohol and drugs at an early age. Allen had been jailed several times and had spent nine years in prison for drug distribution. He had come to Pensacola to get his life together and acknowledged that he was recovering from alcoholism and drug dependency.
We could not believe it was possible for Allen to donate. There was no conceivable way this man with his past could possibly qualify as a kidney donor. The twenty-one prior volunteers had lived a remarkably different lifestyle than Allen. If none of them had qualified surely his qualification was out of question.
In spite of our doubts, Allen enrolled himself in the kidney donor evaluation program at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He was insistent through the evaluation process that God had saved him and sent him for this purpose. He had a few minor problems that needed to be corrected; some teeth had to be pulled and an intestinal polyp had to be removed. His problems were quickly taken care of and Allen was approved as my donor. Our blood types matched perfectly.
There is generally a waiting period from approval to surgery, but Allen bugged the transplant team at UAB unmercifully. He called twice a week to prod the process along. On October 24, we were admitted to UAB hospital and on October 26, the transplant was accomplished.
My body has embraced Allen’s kidney with great delight and I have not had a full night’s sleep since.
However, that doesn’t end the story. Someone at our church paid a years’ rent for Allen to have a place to live. Another paid his utilities. Light duty was arranged while he recovered.
Allen has recovered well and I am making progress, thankful everyday for this dear man’s sacrifice.
Editor’s Note: Here are some relevant links on this important story: