Earlier this summer, Chad McDonald’s pastor changed Chad’s life. The method might surprise you: he did it by donating an organ.
One working kidney was what stood between Chad MacDonald and renewed strength and health, and Pastor Joel Ringma was able to provide that life-changing donation.
Less than a quarter of Canadians are living organ donors, yet the need for donations far surpasses that supply. MacDonald, a member at Terrace Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Terrace, B.C., faced this realization when he began his hemodialysis journey a year ago. Hemodialysis is a treatment that filters water and waste through your bloodstream when your kidneys are unable to perform the task.
Ringma, the pastor at Terrace CRC, baptized MacDonald as a baby. When MacDonald was in high school, Ringma was his volleyball coach, and the two coached the volleyball team together after MacDonald graduated.
When MacDonald discovered he needed a kidney transplant, Ringma and MacDonald created a video to interview MacDonald and ask people to prayerfully consider if they could be a living organ donors.
After the video, Ringma underwent a series of tests to see if he could be a match for MacDonald, and to both of their surprise, he was!
‘How could I not?’
Pastor Ringma had the honour of calling MacDonald to share the news that he was a match and that a surgery date had been set. This call was emotional for both of them, Ringma said.
“It was pretty powerful and exciting, because we’d been waiting for a while [to find out] if and when this date would happen.”
On June 20, Ringma and MacDonald underwent surgery. MacDonald said, “I trusted God had a plan, and I knew I was in good hands.” He said that when he woke up from surgery, he was tired, but “the very first big change I noticed was that the head fog I had been getting for the last year from hemodialysis and my low kidney function was no longer there.”
Ringma shared that he is thankful for “God’s providence of a kidney for Chad.” MacDonald said the doctors told him “to prepare for a two- to three-year wait for a transplant.” MacDonald is thankful that his wait was only one year because he found himself “worn out from the dialysis.”
Many people ask Ringma why he chose to donate, and he said his response is always, “How could I not? What if that was my kid? Wouldn’t I want someone to do that for my kid? It just seems like the right thing to do.” Ringma said, “It’s a privilege to be part of, and I’m excited about what God is doing.”
Ringma said another reason he chose to donate is that “this risk makes sense for Chad and the sake of his well-being, shalom, and wholeness, and I know in the midst of it the God who created me and Chad together will by God’s grace give him a kidney.”
Recognizing the need
MacDonald and his pastor knew each other, of course, but some living donors choose to remain anonymous. This is the route that Elisabeth Gesch took when she anonymously donated a kidney this past year.
Gesch was inspired to sign up as a living donor after her sister went through the donor process but was unable, in the end, to donate. The year-long testing process involved finding a match, undergoing surgery, and finalizing all the details. Gesch said, “It was exciting because ever since I started, I felt like there was something I was working towards that was really cool.” When her sister found out everything was a go, she flew out to support Gesch after the surgery.
This was Gesch’s first surgery, but that didn’t prevent her from being willing and excited to donate. The experience of donating a kidney is similar to a C-section in both the recovery time and the surgical incisions. Many people have asked Gesch, “Why donate, and why anonymously?”
She told CC that several factors contributed to her decision, including “I have an extra [kidney]. I have something other people need.” Although most people are born with two kidneys, it’s possible to live a normal, healthy life with one. “I think it’s part of my make-up,” Gesch said, that if “someone is in need, we should help them, and this is a very tangible way to help someone.”
Gesch also has an attitude of why not. “I don’t think it should be such an anomaly for an anonymous living donation,” she said. “Obviously, it’s not for everyone, and you need to have a lifestyle that works . . . but I think it should be a lot more common when you consider how many people are on waitlists for things that [can be given through] living donation.”
In 2019, over 4,000 Canadians were on the organ transplant waitlist, and 77 percent of those were waiting for a kidney.
“Overall, it’s been a very rewarding experience. I feel like I’ve done something for someone else that is tangible, that really impacts another person,” Gesch said. “Giving to others who are in need is part of my faith.”