Lessons I Learned from My Kidney Transplant

Thanks to everyone around the world who was praying last Thursday for my kidney transplant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). The doctors said that it was a very successful transplant and they are confident my body will not reject the kidney. My brother-in-law, Tom (the donor), was able to come home from the hospital Saturday and I was able to come home Sunday. The kidney is functioning quite well and producing quite abundantly!

My recovery will take 5-8 weeks, and during that time I can’t lift anything over 10 lbs., so no housework for awhile. I will be on about sixteen different medications for the first month, and then will continue on immuno-suppressant drugs the rest of my life. This means that I will have to be careful about exposure to germs and I will be more susceptible to cancer than before. For the first few weeks I have to test, monitor and record a number of symptoms almost every hour of the day, and I have to make trips to HUP several times a week for the first month.

The whole experience was amazing, and I learned so much from it. I thought I would summarize a few of the best lessons I learned:

1. God’s design of the human body is incredible

Throughout the past six years since I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease I have learned so much about kidneys that astound me. Almost everyone is born with two kidneys (some have a horseshoe kidney where the two have been fused together in the womb), but only need one. The kidneys are a redundant system in the body, and when one is removed, the remaining kidney simply assumes the function of the removed kidney. A person with one kidney functions just as well as someone with two.

Additionally, the way transplants are done is amazing. Tom’s kidney was removed through a small incision around his navel and three small slits in his side. My kidneys (called “the native kidneys”) were left in me, as removing them would be unnecessary surgery. Tom’s kidney was inserted into my abdomen just below and to the right of my navel where it was connected directly to blood vessels and my bladder. After implanting my kidney, the surgeon waited a few minutes, and the kidney actually began to produce urine before he began to sew me up. The immuno-suppressant drugs that they began to administer during surgery trick the body into moving the filtering function of the body away from the native kidneys and to the new kidney. My 9-inch incision was sealed, not with stitches or staples, but 24 steri-strips that can withstand showering immediately after surgery. The most pain I felt during the entire four days in the hospital (beside some abdominal soreness) was when they removed the very sticky tape holding in my IV’s when I was discharged. Simply put, the technology of organ transplantation is astounding.

2. God’s gift of common grace is a blessing to believers

None of the doctors, surgeons, or nurses that I met were believers as far as I know. I was able to talk freely about my faith, but didn’t get much response of interest. Yet, the skill of these medical professionals was amazing. My surgeon, Dr. Ali Naji, is originally from Iran and has been at HUP for 40 years doing transplants. Everyone else involved in my surgery and care (close to 40 people) were professional, encouraging and obviously very skilled. Because of God’s common grace, unbelievers are able to use their God-given gifts of intellect to become great physicians. Although they can’t account for their abilities, unbelievers are able to use them for the good of others.

3. People are depraved at their core

While I was walking slowly around the transplant ward as advised, someone walked into my hospital room and stole my cell phone. Unbelievable!

4. Our lives and health are completely under the sovereign care of God

When the anesthesiologist put me under in the operating room, I was unable to do anything whatsoever to help myself. My life and health, however, were safely in God’s hands. The surgeons’ hands were being guided completely by God, as were the actions of the anesthesiologists and other staff. All the various complications that could arise in a surgery (and there are dozens if not hundreds) were being carefully directed by our loving Father. This reassurance makes surgery a no-risk event in God’s eyes, even though from our perspective there is great risk. God’s sovereignty is the only security we ever have.

5. The prayers of the saints are the most precious comfort to a suffering soul

To know that people all around the world were praying for me (thanks, internet!) was the greatest comfort I had going into the surgery. I was able to tell the surgical team that they were being prayed for, and I think they appreciated it.

6. The community of the church supporting those who suffer is the greatest help one could hope for

Since this whole process began accelerating last summer, I have met several kidney patients with no support system, no family nearby, and no one to help them. This is inconceivable since I have depended so much on my family, my church and my friends. My wife did not have to sit alone during the 8 hours I was gone from her because of our pastor and Christian friends who came and sat for hours to keep her company. The church is designed to be a community, and its support is invaluable.

7. A godly wife is a man’s greatest possible encouragement when he has to take the role of the weak partner in the relationship

I can’t praise my wife enough for her patience, endurance and care for me these past six years. She really meant it when she said, “for better or worse, in sickness and in health.” Since I have been home she has worked tirelessly and through the night to make sure I am comfortable, that my medications and doctors’ visits are organized, and that I am resting. She has done this with such a cheerful and willing attitude that I hope I can serve her in the same way on a daily basis.

So, thanks again to everyone who prayed for me. Please continue to pray for my recovery and that my body will continue to accept the kidney during the transition period. God bless you all!

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8 thoughts on “Lessons I Learned from My Kidney Transplant

  1. Thanks for sharing Mark. It is great to hear about answered prayer requests. Students in Chile were praying for you!

    Continuing to pray,

    josh marlowe

  2. Dear Mark,

    Somehow I managed to be totally out of the information/prayer request loop. I had no idea you were struggling with this, let alone facing transplant surgery, etc. What an amazing gift Tom gave you. I’m all kinds of impressed with him, too! But my main point just now is to praise the Lord with you for the good report. I pray that you will continue to progress and do well. It is so easy for most of us to take good health for granted until something like this interrupts! Thank you for your faithfulness to the Lord and to ministry. And praise the Lord you were able to have all this done before Obamacare totally kicks in! May you know God’s grace and provision in the days of adjustment that lie ahead.

    In Christ,

    Dave Lingle

  3. I too have received this precious gift of life, but my progress was not as outstanding as yours. In fact, it was quite a night-mare – but my GOD got me thru it all, kidney transplant, heart attack, colon resection – in hospital for 15 days (2 surgeries). All I can say is I will pray for you and thank God that he has allowed your new kidney to function and work for you – just like it has always been right there. WHO cannot believe in God !!!!! So many miracles. Please pray for me too – I still continue to have struggles, but I know his mercy and grace are sufficient – whatever may come. LOL

  4. You story is so inspiring to me…My boyfriend is about just a few hours away from donating his kidney to his sister…His family, him and myself are just praying and praying…and your story helped calm my nervousness down a little… THANK YOU and GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR ENTiRE FAMILY 🙂

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