'One of the best gifts
you can give'
A UMNS Report By Amy Green
For Randy Wright, a new kidney means another chance to coach his 11-year-old daughter in basketball and softball. For the Rev. Pat Buss, it means the possibility of preaching again.
For Holston's Rev. Malcolm Wansley, a kidney transplant in 1995 saved him from succumbing to Berger's disease.
They were lucky. Many others aren't. United Methodists will stress just what a gift a donated organ can be on Sunday Nov. 10. The denomination will be among those organizing donor drives and workshops during the month to encourage more donors and teach them they don't have to be deceased or the ailing one's relative to give up an organ.
"So many people could be helped if people would just sign their donor cards," said Buss, 47, whose condition forced him to give up his congregation nearly a year ago at Oakland United Methodist Church in Topeka, Kan. "It's just one of the best gifts you can give."
More than 80,000 people are on the nation's organ transplant waiting list, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Some 24,000 people received transplants last year, but on average 17 people die each day while waiting for healthy organs.
Created in 2000, the United Methodist Church's annual Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday is meant to "get people to be conscious of the gifts God has given us and the ways that we might be involved in giving to others," said Don Hayashi, a staff executive with the churchwide General Council on Ministries in Dayton, Ohio. Churches may observe the day in a variety of ways, perhaps by mentioning it in their services, organizing special programs or supplying members with donor cards. It is viewed as a time to gather together around the issue of life and Thanksgiving.
A week later other denominations will mark the seventh annual National Donor Sabbath, an interfaith event organized by DHHS. Activities will be similar to those of the church.
The efforts are important to Wright, 44, of Dayton, Ohio, who underwent a transplant in August. His kidneys were damaged during a bone marrow transplant he received two years ago to treat a blood disease, and they had grown worse ever since. He had been on dialysis a grueling treatment that for Wright lasted three hours a day, three days a week for a short time and knew a transplant would be necessary soon. But he fretted about asking a friend or relative to be a donor because of the risks.
That's when Kate Roberts volunteered her kidney. Roberts, 57, had known Wright for years through Sulphur Grove United Methodist Church, Huber Heights, Ohio, and had always told her children she wanted her organs donated after her death. But she never considered how she could help her old friend, until one evening as she drove home from choir practice.
"All of a sudden there was this thought in my brain you could be a kidney donor," said Roberts, who is senior director of development for the Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges. "I know at that time that God put that on my heart."
She researched the surgery and underwent some medical tests but never worried about the risks, believing her faith would keep her safe. She and Wright now are nearly recovered from the surgery, and Wright said he is growing stronger each day. But he still finds Roberts' generosity remarkable.
"I don't know how I could thank her enough," said Wright, a pharmacist. "I mean, how do you thank someone for a kidney?"
Pat Buss is equally grateful to his close friend Jud Webster. Buss' inherited kidney disease had forced him on dialysis for 18 months, and he was crushed to give up his congregation. He had languished on the organ waiting list for months and probably would have remained there for two or three years without Webster.
Buss had known Webster, 54, since he was a student pastor years ago at Ellison Avenue United Methodist Church in El Reno, Okla. He and his wife had grown close to the Websters over the years, even after moving to Kansas, but he wasn't prepared when Webster called one evening to volunteer for a kidney transplant.
"In fact, I had to call him back later in the evening to apologize for not being so gracious," Buss said with a laugh. "I was just so thunderstruck."
The two underwent surgery in September and are still recuperating.
Wansley, pastor at Oak Ridge District's LaFollette United Methodist Church, went on the list for a kidney transplant in April 1995 after learning about his rare, non-inherited disease two years earlier. His mother volunteered one of her kidneys as a living donor, saving Wansley from having to wait months or years for a cadaver's organ. The transplant was completed a few weeks after Annual Conference 1995.
Today, the minister takes immunosuppressant drugs twice daily, struggling with the side effects. There is a one-in-three chance he'll need another transplant in the future.
"If everyone signed their donor cards, there would be no waiting list," said Wansley, 54. Medical advances have made more people eligible for transplants, but there are not enough donated organs to meet the demand, DHHS spokesman Dennis Wagner said. Awareness efforts by the United Methodist Church and other denominations are especially important because while many people would readily donate an organ, they just haven't signed a donor card. Others mistakenly believe that Christian teachings forbid organ donation.
Buss marked Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday last year with his church by preaching on the subject and distributing brochures from a nearby transplant center. The congregation also held a blood drive. He said his transplant has given him a new life.
"I was awfully sick before the surgery," he said. "As soon as I get over this surgery, I'll probably be better than I have been for the last five or 10 years."
Green is a free-lance writer in Nashville, Tenn. Annette Bender, editor of The Call, contributed to this report.