Originally published in MLive
When Sarah Farkas of Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, decided to donate a kidney to a man she barely knew, she broke the news to him one Sunday at church.
“This is going to sound crazy,” she said, “but I think God told me to give you one of my kidneys.”
Duke Guy was shocked, grateful — and a bit hesitant. After 30 years of battling kidney disease, he desperately wanted a transplant. But he was afraid to get his hopes up.
“My first question was, ‘What’s your blood type?’” he said. “When she said she didn’t know, I didn’t get excited because I thought, ‘What are the odds?’”
The odds were steep, as it turned out. But it didn’t matter.
On Monday morning this week (January 13), seven months after that brief conversation, the transplant was performed at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.
For Guy, the gift of a kidney was overwhelming. “It saved my life,” he said.
For Farkas, the transplant was a powerful spiritual experience. “I don’t see how you could look at this story and not think there’s a higher being,” she said.
Both marveled at the way everything fell into place to make the transplant possible.
Sarah Farkas, who is donating a kidney to Duke Guy, prays with him the evening before the transplant. With them is Guy’s wife, Deb, and Farkas’ mother, Joyce Raab, and her fiance, Sergio Reyes.
Guy, a 58-year-old Zeeland resident, was diagnosed in 1982 with IgA nephropathy, a disease that damages the filtering units of the kidney. The disease progressed over the years until April 2013, when he went into kidney failure and was placed on the national transplant list.
His wife, Deb, a nurse at Holland Hospital, said the couple expected at least a five-year wait for an organ from a deceased donor. Nearly 97 000 people in the U.S. are waiting for kidney transplants, including 2 600 in Michigan. Deb wanted to donate one of her kidneys, but she has a blood disorder that makes her ineligible.
Guy began home dialysis, a nine-hour process every night. He often felt tired and nauseated. He cut back on his hours at the small cleaning company he owns, though he continued working part-time in a warehouse.
He and his wife have two adult children, Chad, 34, and Kalli, 31, and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way.
Farkas met the Guys through her work as a pastoral intern at Second Reformed Church in Zeeland, while she was studying at Western Theological Seminary. A 41-year-old single mother with two teenage daughters, Farkas worked in banking before deciding to go into ministry.
Although she didn’t know Guy well, she was aware of his need for a transplant through prayer requests at church. One day in May, she sat on her couch, praying. She included a specific request for a kidney donor for Guy.
That’s when she heard God’s voice.
“It was very, very clear,” she said. “It was a question. He said, ‘Why don’t you give him one of yours?’”
Farkas immediately began to shake and weep. She fell forward to her knees, flooded with feelings of warmth and peace.
“It just dawned on me that, wow, I was in the presence of God,” she said.
She waited a couple of weeks before she told Guy. She had never thought of becoming a living kidney donor, and the idea was a little scary. She mulled it over and talked about it with friends. She decided she would go through the testing and learn more about the process.
Guy put her in touch with the transplant team at Saint Mary’s, and she began tests to see if she could be a donor.
She passed the first hurdle when she found out she had O-negative blood type, the same as Guy. He could receive a kidney only from someone with blood type O.
She then went through “tissue typing,” which examines six antigens important in organ transplantation. She and Guy matched on all six.
A perfect match. Even in siblings, that happens only 25 percent of the time. For two unrelated people, the odds are one in 100 000, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Further testing determined Farkas was healthy enough to donate a kidney. When she was cleared for the transplant, she couldn’t wait to call Guy.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said.
Duke and Deb Guy, after months of holding optimism in check, were stunned.
“We were just amazed that somebody would go through this and do this for us,” said Deb Guy. “It’s major surgery. It means a couple of months off work.
“How do you thank someone for that? It’s mind-boggling.”
On Sunday, Guy was admitted to Saint Mary’s to prepare for the transplant and to begin anti-rejection drugs. Farkas visited him and his wife that evening, accompanied by her mother, Joyce Raab, and fiancé, Sergio Reyes.
Guy said he had a hard time believing that soon Farkas’ right kidney would be his, and that he would be free of kidney disease.
“I’ve been fighting with this for 30 years,” he said, his voice breaking. “And now, all of a sudden, it’s tomorrow.”
Farkas said she was “very, very at peace” with her decision to donate her kidney.
“We read in the Bible about all these different miracles,” she said. “To think that I’m part of a miracle – it leaves me speechless.”
‘You can’t put a number on that’
Unrelated donors are not uncommon, said Simie Bredeweg, the manager of the kidney transplant programme at Saint Mary’s. About 27 percent of the living donors at Saint Mary’s are not related to the recipient, although most are longtime friends or have a close relationship.
Still, it’s a rare thing to have someone feel called to donate a kidney to a stranger and then to find blood types and antigens match perfectly.
“You can’t put a number on that,” Bredeweg said. “There are no statistics to describe that particular situation.”
Early Monday, Farkas and Guy were wheeled into separate operating rooms. Surgeons removed Farkas’ right kidney and transplanted into Guy’s body.
Wednesday morning, both donor and recipient were recovering on schedule, in rooms side by side on the eighth floor of Saint Mary’s. Farkas paid Guy a visit, slowly shuffling into the room in her bathrobe.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Sore,” Guy said.
“I hear you,” she said, as she eased into a chair beside him.
Farkas said she had no regrets about giving up a kidney.
“It’s such an honor that God chose me to be part of a miracle,” she said. “Because it truly is a miracle. And I still don’t know how to process that emotionally, the thought that God loves Duke so much that he gave him a new kidney.”
Guy wrapped his arms around her in a strong hug, and they both wept. Guy, too, sees the transplant as a miracle. He is overwhelmed not only by Farkas’ gift, but by the support and prayers they have received from co-workers, friends and church members.
“You don’t realize how many people are behind you, supporting and praying for you,” he said.