Monday, March 10, 2014

How Far Would You Go to Save a Life?

(March 13 is World Kidney Day, a day for raising awareness about kidney disease. With that in mind, here’s a column from 2014 about a Mennonite pastor who gave a bit more than most to help others—one of her kidneys.)

Over 3,000 Canadians are on waiting lists for a kidney transplant. Over 200 of them are in Manitoba. Many of these people will die while on the waiting list.

Carol Penner thinks that's wrong. So wrong, she donated a kidney herself to help someone who needed the life-saving procedure.

"These are needless deaths," she says of those who will die before receiving help. "There are millions of healthy kidneys in Canada."

Penner, pastor of Edmonton's Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church, was moved to donate one of her kidneys after her husband lost one of his to cancer in 2008.

"I didn't realize how easy it is to live on one kidney," says the 53 year-old. "There was no change in his life."

After thinking about it for a couple of years, in 2011 she offered to donate a kidney as an undesignated donor--her kidney would go to whoever needed it most. What followed was a year of medical appointments, tests and questionnaires. 

Once accepted, Penner--then the pastor of First Mennonite Church in Vineland, Ontario--was put on the list to donate when needed.

In October, 2012 she received a call and had surgery to remove one of her kidneys. Soon after, someone living somewhere in Canada received her gift of life.

Why did she do it? 

"People across Canada are dying of kidney disease," she says. "If I could save someone's life, why not do that?"

Her faith also played an important role. 

"Our body is the biggest gift God has given us, especially if we've been given good health," she says. "We can share it with someone who needs to get healthy."

Looking back, Penner says that donating a kidney was "one of the most joyful things I have done in my life."

Now she is on a quest to encourage more people to help save the lives of those awaiting a new kidney-starting with her own denomination. 

"As Mennonites, we could lead the way," she says of the 200,000 or so Mennonites in Canada. If just a fraction of that number donated a kidney, "we could wipe out the 
waiting list in a year."

She acknowledges it won't be easy; giving a kidney is quite a bit different than giving money to feed people who are hungry, poor or sick in another part of the world.

But she thinks Mennonites, and other denominations and faith groups, should still try. 

 "We are constantly encouraged to give money to help others without needing to know who they are," she says. 

"Why not do the same with a kidney? The rewards are huge-you can save someone's life."

Penner has a blog about her experience of donating a kidney, and is happy to correspond with people who are interested in doing the same thing. Click here to visit it.

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