Why I donated my kidney
At the forefront of my mind was Jesus’ call to disciples to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me”, writes Joe Walsh from South Parade Baptist Church. And the experience of giving a kidney was one of the best of my life
Having undergone months of numerous tests and scans, I was back in the hospital. I sat down nervously, and the psychiatrist asked “so Joe, why do you want to give your kidney to a stranger?”
The truth was that ever since I’d heard about altruistic kidney donation on a Christian radio station, the idea had gripped me. I researched the risks and the donation process, and realised that I could live very well with one kidney. I realised that the low risk operation and recovery were outweighed by dramatically improved health for the recipient, and hundreds of thousands of pounds saved by the NHS. The more I thought about it, the more I sensed that God had ignited in me a passion to give my kidney. Many Christian friends and family struggled to understand why I would do this, one even remarked “that’s taking Jesus a bit too seriously”.
However, at the forefront of my mind was Jesus’ call to disciples to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me”. I also thought about the homeless men I work with in Bradford, many of whom suffer from chronic health issues. If I truly believe that I am no longer my own, then how could I justify withholding my spare kidney from someone who may literally be dying for one?
And so I explained to the psychiatrist that my Christian faith was my motivation. I want to give my kidney because God has shown great unmerited love to me whilst I was a stranger to Him. He suffered physically for me and even died. In giving my kidney I was expressing God’s love practically, and giving life, health and restoration to a stranger. The psychiatrist accepted this, and being in good health, I was approved to have the operation. The NHS matched me to lady who had waited many years for a transplant. All I knew about her was her age and gender.
And so the day of the operation came. The surgeon drew an arrow on my left side to make sure they didn’t accidentally remove the wrong organ. I was wheeled into the operating theatre and woke up feeling a bit disoriented some hours later in a different part of the hospital. The operation was a success and I was comfortably drugged up. Not only had my operation gone well, but so had the other operations in ‘the chain’. Altruistic donors are extremely valuable to the NHS because they can give to a recipient, whose family member, not being a match for their loved one, gives their kidney on to someone else. These ‘chains’ allow two or three donations but can only be initiated by an altruistic donor.
On the evening of the operation I was up and about, and the following day I returned home. After a week I was capable of most household jobs and activities and after two weeks I could drive again. It wasn’t long before I was back to work. After six weeks, I met the surgeon for a check-up and I asked him how I should live differently now that I have one kidney. He told me I should do three things: don’t smoke, don’t become overweight, and don’t binge drink. Surprisingly, my lifestyle hasn’t changed much!
The experience of giving a kidney was one of the best of my life. Perhaps I was surprised to discover that it is genuinely better to give than receive. I was so blessed through the process. God gave me peace at every stage and has developed my character and priorities through it. I have been further blessed to hear from my recipient by letter, who told me that she thanked God for the donation. Apparently it changed her life, allowing her to have the energy to play with her grandchildren.
Unfortunately thousands of people are on the waiting list for a kidney and around 250 people die each year before they find a donor. Already however there are a handful of Christian men and women who have made a difference. My vision is for God’s church to meet this need as they hear the call to be living sacrifices. What if, instead of a waiting list of people suffering desperately for a kidney, there was a waiting list of Christians, ready, and waiting to meet their need? What a fantastic opportunity for the church to destroy negative stereotypes and bear witness to the gospel! In my own life, my donation has led to conversations with most of my family, friends and colleagues, all of whom have instinctively asked me why I would give a kidney. The answer is undeniably God’s love, and people are willing to listen.
Looking forward, I hope my kidney donation will lead to more opportunities to speak into people’s greatest need; not for a kidney, but for the Maker Himself. I also hope everyone reading this article will feel encouraged, both in what they already do for Christ that costs them, and in taking their next step to serve Christ unreservedly. Please do weigh up kidney donation for yourself, there is plenty of information about kidney donation on the NHS website, as well as the charity Give a Kidney. If you contact your nearest transplant centre, they will answer any of your questions and can send out an information pack.
Giving a kidney is also really relevant to our current situation with coronavirus, as it massively relieves pressure on the NHS: saving the NHS £400,000 - £600,000 (if giving through through the kidney sharing scheme) and returning two or three people to health. While kidney transplants are largely cancelled right now, I'm hoping to show that this can be part of the Church's response as the NHS seeks to recover.
Joe Walsh is a housing support officer in Leeds, and elder at South Parade Baptist Church. He was initially encouraged by 40acts, the generosity campaign from Stewardship now in its 10th year.
More than 100,000 people, from 150 countries, have signed up to deliver acts of generosity over the past 10 years. This campaign is an engaging part of the Christian calendar, encouraging and inspiring people to carryout daily, meaningful acts of generosity over Lent.
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts here.