Southern Kindness

Kidney Donor Awarenes AngelAuthor’s note: All names in this story have been changed.

On July 24, 2010, I wrote a story called, “A Story of Sacrifice.” It was the story of a homeless ex-drug addict named Allen Smithfield who showed up at our church and claimed that God had sent him to give a kidney. Allen, the most unlikely of candidates to become a living kidney donor, was accepted. Twenty-one other friends offered a kidney and were not qualified because of things like high blood pressure or on the wrong medications.

Allen grew up on the streets of a large mid-western town, was abused as a child, was raped countless times by street people, was a recovering drug and alcohol addict, and had served nine years in prison after having been jailed several times. We could not imagine that he could possibly qualify as a donor since donors with even the slightest disease, chemical abnormality, or unusual blood pressure would not qualify. The only problem Allen had was four bad teeth. A dentist friend quickly took care of that and, against all odds, Allen was accepted as a potential donor. I had to wait a year for the transplant in order to be treated for prostate cancer. When I was certified as cancer free, On October 26, 2008, Allen gave me his right kidney.

Recently Florence McNeil (one of our fellow Like The Dewers) emailed me and asked me to share the rest of the story. I suppose it is time to do so even though the story turns out to be very sad, not for me but for Allen. My (Allen’s) kidney is functioning quite well and my kidney function is about 40%, which is quite adequate for a good quality of life.

A couple of weeks after the transplant we returned to Pensacola. An anonymous donor from our church paid rent and utilities for a trailer for Allen for one year and other members of the church provided for amenities. Allen worked at the church doing custodial and other needed jobs and was provided food through our food service division. Someone gave Allen a car and another obtained insurance for it. Things rocked along quite nicely for over a year.

Then sad things started happening. Allen missed work more and more frequently. He sublet part of his trailer to a young man without the benefactor’s knowledge. Sometimes when he called me we had rather bizarre conversations. I saw him frequently and realized that he had started smoking again. I suspected that he was slipping back into his old habits. I encouraged him to return to A.A. once again.

I started overhearing casual conversations similar to, “You know I was glad to lend Allen $25.00 the other day to help with his electric bill.” The more I listened, the more people I realized were lending him money, money which was not being repaid. He had a minor automobile accident and did some slight damage to his car; someone lent him the money to get it fixed. He had terminated his auto insurance and spent the refund from the insurance company. He continually assured me that he was staying sober and doing well.

Things continued downhill as Allen borrowed more and more money from many people. The pattern was quite clear. He had returned to alcohol and drug abuse. People became aware they were being used and stopped giving him money. We finally decided that he would be better off to return north where he had family. Sadly, I sent him on his way last April, after giving him adequate money for gasoline.

After returning home, he frequently called for a wire transfer of $20.00 or $25.00, not just to me, but later I found that he was contacting others too. His story was that he was working, transporting cars for an auto auction. He was spending most of his paycheck on caring for his teenaged son and he needed a little money for gas to get back and forth to work.

Allen frequently called, but always on a borrowed cell phone and when I returned his call, I got an aunt, uncle, or cousin. I would leave a message and he would return my call. The last time I called him, I got his aunt who asked if I could help her. She said that she was on fixed income and Allen had borrowed so much money that she couldn’t pay her rent. I asked her if Allen was drinking, she said, “Yes.” I asked if he was doing drugs, she answered, “Oh, Lord Jesus, that man stays high all the time. He is living with his uncle who is fixing to throw him out.” I asked how much she needed and since it was only $60.00, I sent her a check.

There is much more that could be told about this sad story, but there seems no need to do so.

I then did one of the hardest and saddest things I have ever done. I wrote Allen a letter severing all ties with him until he could send me certification that he was clean again. I haven’t heard from him since.

I’ve gone into this detail to show how much support Allen received from many good people. He stayed sober for over a year while we were waiting for the transplant to happen and for almost a year after that. This shows just how difficult it is to break the vicious cycle that drug addicts face plus the trauma’s so many children suffer in early life. I know that many of us were being taken advantage of and were enabling Allen’s decline, but everyone felt such a deep sense of gratitude to him for his gift to me and so wanted him to overcome his addictions.

It is hard to imagine and difficult to describe the obligation I feel to Allen who literally saved my life with part of himself, but in good conscience, I cannot continue to assist his self-destructive behavior. I am very sad about the outcome thus far  and continue to pray that Allen will find a way to wholeness. How can anyone who experienced an early childhood like Allen’s ever be okay? And, “that’s all I’ve got to say about that,” to quote one of my favorite sources of wisdom, Forrest Gump.

Jack deJarnette

Jack deJarnette

I am a United Methodist Minister who in June 2008, was placed on incapacity leave due to kidney failure.  My kidneys failed due to immusuppression medications secondary to a heart transplant in 1997. The ministry is my second career having spent 12 previous years at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta as Chief Respiratory Therapist and Technical Director of Life Support Systems at Emory University School of Medicine. I  have a wonderful wife of 45 years, two super children, and four grandchildren. My life has been exciting, challenging, and full of wonder as in my early years I was concerned with saving lives and in my later years saving souls I was graduated  from Georgia Military Academy in 1961 (Woodward Academy). I attended Emory-at-Oxford College, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and Emory University for postgraduate work. I received my ministry credentials through the United Methodist Church Course of Study at Emory's candler School of Theology. My Theology is primarily Wesleyan and varies with the particular topic under discussion. I refuse to be labeled either liberal or conservative. My politics are moderate embracing what I hope is the best of all parties. I have a deep love for Christ, the Church, and the United States of America. Bev (my wife) and I are deeply thankful to God for the blessings that have been showered on us throughout our lives.

  1. My hat is off to you, Jack. When one seeks to aid another, the first thing they must understand is that they may fail, though they ought to try just the same. I’ve made it a habit to reach out and offer assistance to those who appear to be walking a self-destructive path. Sometimes they’ll change direction and stick to it. More often, the path calls to them and they return even while knowing what lies along it. Making the decision that you’ve done all you can and will do no more is very difficult. I hope it helps when you struggle, to remember you did what you could for him, but you could not decide for him.

    1. Mark,
      I certainly agree and having worked with many addicts over the years know the boundaries. It is just that I have never been as close to an addict as I was Allen. I lost all objectivity.

  2. I have to wonder, what kinds of pain relieving drugs did they put him on after the surgery? I wonder if it’s possible that those drugs triggered his relapse. I guess we’ll never know.

    1. Thanks for a good question Gita. The pain control in Allen’s case was acomplished primarily with OTC stuff like Advil. The doctors were very cautious because of his dependency . And remember he was sober for almost a year after the transplant. I don’t think post op care played much of a role, if any. It seems to me that the relapse had to do with the people he chose to accociate with.

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