Operation Sidney

Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital
Texas Transplant Institute
San Antonio, Texas
June 15, 2005

by Tim Cormier

Kidney disease had finally taken its toll on my wife, Maria. It had destroyed her pregnancy and killed our child. Afterwards, she suffered years of hypertension, fluid retention, and weight gain. Fifteen years later, she now faced the life-threatening end result of IgA nephropathy. One kidney was dead and another was at 7% function. There was no known cause and no cure. The only treatments left were dialysis and transplant.

The doctors started her on dialysis immediately while preparing and hoping for a transplant. A surgeon inserted a catheter into her right chest just under her collarbone. Three days a week, nurses and technicians connected her to a ghastly-looking machine. It was ugly, but it kept her alive and bought her time.

Meanwhile, the scramble started. The clinic warned us that waiting for a kidney from someone who died could take a long time, quite possibly years. Four women, two sisters and two family friends, immediately volunteered for testing as kidney donors. Two did not match while the other two had health issues.

Now it was my turn. They drew my blood for the first time and found that our blood was a perfect match, A-positive. Things were looking up already! My first A+ after nearly fifty years! This led to the next step, an intense all-day workup of physical exams, X-Rays, CAT scans, EKGs, a renal arteriogram, more blood work, and interviews with the transplant coordinator and a social worker. They had to be sure the prospective donor understood all the factors involved. The topics covered everything from the risks involved to finances and family support. They also offered me a way to back out if desired with no questions asked. I assured them this road would never be taken.

Methodist Transplant gave us their decision a week later. Maria hugged and kissed me tearfully when she learned that I was the chosen one.

I always thought Maria married me for my body. Now I was sure of it.

We had several weeks to prepare. Many people from church, work, and school helped with chores, caring for our daughter, Natalie, and anything else that needed doing.

I bicycled 10-15 miles at least five times a week and swam whenever possible. My life was now centered on being in the best shape possible to give Maria the best kidney possible.

People could not believe what was about to happen. A husband would give his wife a kidney. Many complimented me on my courage and love for my wife to take such a step. Most of these people who held me in such high esteem would have done exactly the same thing in my situation and without hesitation. Why should they set me apart?

Maria needed my kidney. If she didn't get it, she would be imprisoned by a dialysis machine and possibly even die. Donation was the only thing left to do.

Now fear and anger set in. I had never been a hospital patient for any reason, let alone surgery. Hospitals require excellent health from kidney donors. They're going to cut me open because I'm too healthy! What will happen to me afterwards? Will I die? Maria's body could reject my kidney. That was really scary. What if some klutz drops my kidney on the floor? How much pain can I stand? What will my abdomen look like afterwards? How ugly will the scars be? How could Maria let this happen? That was really ridiculous. All these questions and thoughts lurked inside me. Despite all the previous bravado, there was no bravery, no model of virtue, and no machismo.

Many people pray for miracles in times of crisis. Some asked that Maria would be totally healed and that an operation would not be necessary. Though it is certainly within God's power to do this, He tends to use more natural and subtle means to bring about healing miracles. One such miracle happened at a small Catholic church on an evening bike ride. I stopped and meditated before a massive, gruesome-looking crucifix hovering over an altar. My Christian beliefs told me that Jesus, the Son of God, had to die on that cross so all of us who believe in Him could have the miracle of eternal life. He did not want to undergo torture and violent death. He asked the Father if it would be possible to let this cup pass, but in the end, He obeyed the Father.

The parallels were obvious. God wanted to heal my wife because He loved her. He wanted to use my kidney to perform the miracle. God the Father did not spare Jesus from the suffering and bloodshed of the cross. All He asked of me was to undergo surgery so that she would live. While Roman soldiers flogged Christ, the best doctors and nurses in the world would care for me. Christ's pain resulted from a vicious spearing. I would have any pain medication at a moment's notice. Christ carried ghastly wounds in His hands, feet, and sides. I would have clean and discreet surgical incisions. This was in God's hands! Did I really trust Him? What was there to be afraid of? How could anyone refuse?

It was He who created my body to be a perfect match for Maria. It was He who created all medicine, surgery, and technology. It was He who gave the gifts of wisdom and healing to all those surgeons, physicians, and nurses. What God creates, He reveals. What He reveals, man discovers, What man discovers, he uses, thus affirming the glory of the Creator.

God Himself was not making one miracle, but many miracles. His first was to replace my fear with faith on that evening bicycle ride.

The day of surgery arrived dark and early on June 15, 2005. Maria's brother and two sisters had driven us to the hospital. I felt a peace and a confidence that everything really was in the Lord's hands.

Sure enough, they put each of us on gurneys and prepped us. The anesthesiologist and surgeon came to check me over one last time. They'd take me first, which they soon did. One of our pastors prayed over me. No fear existed. In a few hours, Maria would have a bouncy, healthy kidney now named Sidney. Maria and I looked at each other one last time as they wheeled me to the operating room.

My next conscious thought was awakening in a hospital room surrounded by visitors. I knew who they were but not much else registered. The staff inserted breathing nozzles in my nose, a high-tech IV device into my arm, and a catheter, and left four small incision sites with staples. Those looked more painful than they actually were.

"Maria's in ICU. Your kidney took to her beautifully, Tim," someone said.

"Praise God for Sidney," was my slurred response.

After her stay in ICU, Maria was put in a private room down the hall from me. I made it a point to get up and walk as quickly and as often as possible. That first time we saw each other after the surgery, we didn't speak for a minute but just looked at each other.

Sometimes love defies words. We took a minute to realize that we were one. As God took a rib form Adam to give Eve life, God took a kidney from me to give Maria life. Now THAT'S a miracle.

Both of us went through the usual post-operative stay. Maria needed to get used to the anti-rejection drugs her body would need to accept Sidney. I would need only pain medication, which I took liberally, and antibiotics. We had many, many, many visitors who gave us a lot of cool cards, plants, and singing balloons. The best visitor, of course, was our nine-year-old daughter, Natalie. She helped everybody any way she could. When she knew both her mommy and daddy would get well and come home soon, all her fears disappeared as if they were never there.

We're all home now in the final stages of recuperation. Maria will always need her medicine and sees the doctors twice a week. The doctors have even taken a liking to Sidney because he is working so well. Natalie is a mother hen, looking out for the both of us. As for me, I am getting used to living with one kidney but I'll soon be back bicycling all around the Hill Country. This story's really just beginning.

If you're reading this and you may be a possible donor, be not afraid.... for the Lord your God is with you. You are an intimate part of one of His greatest miracles and He wouldn't do it without you. He will protect you. If you are fearful or angry, feel not guilty. Everyone worries about the dangers and battles second thoughts of some sort. There will be pain but it only lasts awhile. Your one kidney may fail at some point in your life, though it's extremely rare, but all living entails some risk. There is that chance that your kidney may be rejected, but even if that happens, you were still given a chance to give the greatest gift possible.

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