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Pastor donates kidney to church member Melissa Lauber, Mar 28, 2011
PHOTO BY BLAIRLEE OWENS
Ann Meixner, a member of First United Methodist Church in Laurel, Md., received a kidney donation in January from her pastor, the Rev. Chris Owens (pictured).
By Melissa Lauber Special Contributor
LAUREL, Md.—Just a few months ago, the Rev. Chris Owens didn’t know that every day in the United States 18 people die waiting for an organ transplant or that 4,000 new patients are added to organ transplant lists each month. He wasn’t aware that more than 26 million Americans—or one in nine adults—have kidney disease.
But these statistics took on a personal signifi¬cance for him after he became a living donor in January—giving a kidney to a member of his congregation at First United Methodist Church in Laurel.
Once he learned the statistics, it really wasn’t a difficult decision to make, Mr. Owens said. A greater percentage of people die in automobile accidents than die from organ transplants. “With organ donations, lives are changed. Lives are saved. And it’s all very viable,” he said.
Ann Meixner, the recipient of Mr. Owens’ kidney, believes her pastor may be too humble. “It’s overwhelming that someone would want to help me in this way,” she said. “You have no idea how much this means to me. Words can’t express it. This whole experience has showed me how good God is; how good people are.”
Needed living donor
For many years, Ms. Meixner has suffered with IgA Nephropathy, a chronic and progressive condition that was leading her to dialysis and a 50 percent chance of end-stage renal disease. In October 2009, she went to the University of Maryland Transplant Center in Baltimore to get on the transplant list.
A kidney from a living donor lasts consid¬erably longer and creates far fewer potential complications than one from a deceased person, Ms. Meixner said. She and her husband, Dave, knew that was the option they wanted to pursue. But one by one, family members and friends were deemed incompatible, for a wide array for reasons.
When Mr. Owens heard about Ms. Meixner’s search, he was struck by the fact that they both had O-positive blood, enabling them to give blood to anyone while they can only receive blood from other O-positives. He did some further research and discovered that this was “minimally invasive” surgery that wouldn’t significantly change his lifestyle or life expectancy. “You can live quite comfortably with one kidney,” he said. “It felt like the right thing to do.”
Following a comprehensive physical and psychological screening, Mr. Owens was declared a good match. He lost weight to ensure he was healthy enough for the procedure.
Prayer during surgery
On the day of the surgery, he awoke to find it snowing and he rushed, with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, to the hospital to be there before 5:45 a.m. He and Ms. Meixner shared a pre-operative room. The Rev. Chris Holmes, superintendent of the Annapolis district in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, arrived to pray with both families.
Mr. Owens was wheeled in and his operation began first. He received four small incisions and now boasts a three-to-four inch scar on his abdomen. Ms. Meixner followed him into surgery and just a few hours later, as soon as the kidney was put in, it began to function normally.
For both Mr. Owens and Ms. Meixner, the experience has transcended words.
Ms. Meixner, who says she feels better with each passing day, said she prays she’ll make good use of the extra time this surgery has given her. “I guess I’ll try to be nice,” she joked. “I really couldn’t be happier.”
Her husband Dave echoes her gratitude. “We recognize this for the gift that this is,” he said.
Mr. Owens is shy about receiving gratitude. “I don’t want people to make any kind of big deal of it,” he said. “I’m so glad I could be there for Ann and that she’s able to live a quality life again. That’s awesome.”
Stewardship of life
The transplant has theological implications, according to Mr. Holmes. “Consider the impact on a congregation when the pastor follows the principle of extravagant generosity to the point that he is willing to donate an organ to save a life. It is the faithful opposite of the ‘eye for an eye’ retributive justice that surfaces in Deuteronomy,” he said.
“The decision Chris made to donate one of his kidneys was obvi¬ously courageous but in a larger sense it is also about stewardship; divine stewardship of the human body and ultimately of human life. I cannot wait to see the ripples that come from this compassionate and gutsy action and see how God will use this for a much larger good than the prolonging of one human life.”
Mr. Owens is convinced that there are countless ways we breathe the love of Christ into others. Listening gives life. Donating blood gives life. The things we do for others give life. Donating an organ is another expression of Christ’s life-giving love.
But while he’s hesitant to be put on any kind of pedestal, the pastor hopes his donation will inspire others.
Making himself vulnerable in this experience has allowed Mr. Owens to learn new ways to trust God, he said. In the days after the surgery, a complication put him back into the hospital. Lying in the bed, he looked up at the IV pole and noticed the unit of blood hanging there, restoring his strength.
“I gave a kidney, and now I was there, receiving blood from someone who selflessly gave of themselves so that I could have health,” he said. “It brought it all full circle.”
Ms. Lauber is the editor of UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.