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Finding an angel

by Tom Chillemi

Pastor Mike Cook and Betty Chenowith
There are friends, and then there are true friends.

Betty Chenowith of Deltaville, whose kidneys have failed, recently found out just how many true friends she has.

Twenty years ago, Chenowith was told she had kidney problems. The doctor even told her to put her affairs in order.

She decided not to live under a cloud of doom, but went about her life as anyone would. “I never felt bad,” she said.

Still, Chenowith knew the day might come when kidney failure would change her life drastically. That dreaded news came last year during an annual physical exam. Her kidneys were failing.

Chenowith is not a good candidate for dialysis because her veins are small. She needed a kidney transplant.

She held the fact inside until she met with the “After Thought” group following a Sunday service at Philippi Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Deltaville. “I spilled my guts,” she recalled. “I cried and the men cried with me.”

In July 2008, a note was put in the church flier. “Betty needs an angel.”

Chenowith was overwhelmed when six members of her church family, and five friends volunteered to give her one of their kidneys. Of the 11 potential donors, four were a possible match.

Match making

Kidneys clean the blood, and finding a kidney that matches is an involved process. The donor kidney has to match blood type and other criteria. There are extensive tests that take time. The first person tested must be eliminated before tests on the second person can begin.

The fact that dialysis was not feasible made finding a matching kidney all that more pressing, said Pastor Mike Cook of Philippi Christian Church.

“Pastor Mike” and church member Diane Lucas of Topping were two matches.

Lucas was tentatively set to have a kidney removed during her Christmas break from teaching. However, Lucas was eventually ruled out when her blood pressure started spiking.

“I was extremely disappointed when I found out that I could not donate,” said Lucas. “For me, it wasn’t a big decision to do it. For me, it would have been a blessing to donate.”

Pastor Mike went through the series of tests, including a test to make sure he had two kidneys, since some people are born with only one.

He passed psychological testing. “I wouldn’t have passed the ‘Looney Tune’ test,” he joked, “but they wanted me to understand what I was about to do.

“All I needed to know from Betty is for her to tell me she’d do everything she could to take care of my kidney,” said Pastor Mike with a laugh.

Although the chances of rejection are very small, taking anti-rejection medication at the proper time is vitally important. Chenowith said she has multiple timers, alarms and pill boxes ready. In addition, her daughter Sandi will stay with her.

And since the Cooks and Chenowith are neighbors, Pastor Mike’s wife Liz will check on both patients “around the clock.”

The procedure

On March 11, both of Chenowith’s kidneys were removed because doctors were concerned about them becoming infected or cancerous. Now she is getting dialysis to clean her blood and, at the same time, getting everything she needs to prepare for surgery through a catheter in her heart.

“My next operation will be a piece of cake,” she said confidently.

The target date for the kidney transplant operation is May 13. If all goes well, she will get a new kidney in time for her 65th birthday on May 22.

Pastor Mike will spend four days in the hospital for his kidney removal, and then have six weeks of recovery when he won’t be able to perform his church duties. “The cool thing,” said Pastor Mike, “is that the congregation is 100 percent supportive.”

Three church members, who have recently attended a preaching workshop, will fill in while Pastor Mike is on the mend.

“I think of this as a gift not only from me, but also from our congregation,” said Pastor Mike.

Chenowith added, “It still takes a special person to do this.”

Don’t miss the follow-up article The gift of life.

posted 04.01.2009

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