A GIFT at Christmas

It’s the new year and we just celebrated Christmas. We all give and receive gifts at Christmas, but this year, I got to be part of giving the best gift I have ever given in my life. I hope you take time to read my story about a real-life God sized Miracle.

I call myself a Jesus Follower. I have for almost 40 years. My goal is for people to see Jesus in me in everything I do. My close friends are laughing because they know after 40 years there is still much to be worked on.  Jesus said in John 15:13 “13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. “Jesus lived that out in his own life by surrendering his life to the cross and dying for you and me. The Good News is that He conquered death and rose from the dead. If He hadn’t risen from the dead, he wouldn’t be a Savior and I wouldn’t be writing this. Jesus calls his followers to follow His example.  He always put others before Himself and He was always obedient to what the Father asked Him to do. I have a story to tell and it’s about eventual obedience and loving my neighbor as myself. As a Jesus Follower in America, very rarely do we get to live this out in a way that is life transforming.  My life has been transformed by a miracle.  The cool thing about the miracle that I got to participate in, you can experience it too.

If you’re one of those people who can’t stand to read a long post, just scroll down to the *** near the bottom now. Because what I’m about to tell you it’s quite a story. 

When you meet someone for the first time you never really know where it’s going to go, whether your friendship will last over the years and certainly over the miles when you move away. But I have this one friend, named Bill Boysen who is one of those friends that I’ve had for 30 years.

Martha and I moved from Minneapolis to Florida 15 years ago. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Minnesota, much to the contrary, I miss Minnesota every day. But it was because of Martha ‘s health that we had to move to a warmer climate.  It has been a great move for her health, in fact, as I write this, I sit outside in shorts and a T-shirt and it’s 70°. A little bit of a contrast compared to Minnesota right now.


I met Bill 30 years ago because he was a parent of a kid in our youth group at Trinity Evangelical Free Church, in Lakeville, Minnesota. Martha and I were doing volunteer work there, and Bill’s son Brian was invited as a guest to our youth group one night.

Our friendship was forged 30 years ago but grew over time through moments of adversity, moments of shared work experiences, as well as love for family in Minnesota. Over the last 20 years Bills kidneys became a real health issue for him. He inherited a kidney disease called Polycystic Kidney disease. When he turned 50 his kidneys started growing large cysts on them. Eventually they will grow to be over 30 pounds apiece.

As I mentioned earlier Martha and I moved away from Minnesota over 15 years ago, but Bill was one of those friends that never let me go. He kept in touch with me often as we talked about lots of life issues. Over the last five or six years however those life issues were often centered on his growing kidneys and his kidney failure. In October 2017 Bill let me know that he was being placed on the national kidney donation list. I immediately felt compelled to request a kidney donation kit. I never told Bill that, but I really felt that it was something I should do.

After receiving the kit, I got good at making excuses as to why it couldn’t be me. I just couldn’t get myself to go through the paces required because of our busy radio ministry schedule. I really wanted to do something to help, so in March 2018 we did a radio show highlighting Bill’s need for a kidney donor.  It was broadcast nationwide.  We had his daughter Nicole as a guest to talk about her Living Kidney Donor experience (She had the same disease and received a kidney from an amazing co-worker). We had a Dr. from Abbott Northwestern talk about the surgery and the need for donors, and Bill shared about his need. As the Podcast went out all over the world, several people responded and requested the living donor kits from Abbott Northwestern’s very own Susanna Gust (a living donor advocate).  As it turns out, one of Bills very close friends, a fishing friend from Canada named Bob, came forward and went through the entire process to find out if he could be a match to donate a kidney to Bill. Bob got to the very end of the process but in the end the match fell through. There was great disappointment all over.

In May of 2018 Bill’s kidneys were removed, because they were so large, over 30Lbs each and they were squishing (technical term omitted) his other organs.  Bill started dialysis, 3 days a week for 4 to 6 hours each time.  I would call Bill on his way to dialysis and he was upbeat but during and after, you could hear the life getting sucked out of him. Dialysis was a life extending treatment, but it also was life sucking.

During June and July and early August, Martha and I were on the road all over the Midwest with our radio show, iWork4Him. I mentioned to Martha that when we got home in early August, I would like to go through the process to see if I could donate my kidney to Bill. It was a long shot, as I didn’t even know my blood type at that point. Although, I thought from the beginning that God was asking me to do this and that I would be the donor.

Through 2 months of initial testing they determined that I was a pretty good fit. In order to solidify my ability to donate, the next step was to spend two days of “in the hospital testing” in Minneapolis. So, in early October we snuck into Minneapolis unannounced.  I just didn’t want Bill to get his hopes up until I was completely approved. We went through rigorous testing, well I should say I went through rigorous testing, Martha had to wait by my side for two straight days. At the end of the two days the doctors announced to Martha and me that I was a perfect fit to donate my kidney to Bill. (Emotions felt - Humbling, Amazing, freaked out, and irritated) The Doctor said I was as good a donor as a blood relative. However, this is the irritating part, they also said because I was 52 1/2 years old, I needed to have my colonoscopy before they would give me final approval to donate to Bill. That delayed everything until the end of October as we still had 20+ days of travel ahead of us. This wasn’t a deal killer, but it was something I had dreaded since I was a child. 

On 10/30 and 10/31 I did the Colonoscopy prep. On glass 15 of 16 I prayed hard and said out loud, “Bill, this might be a deal killer!  I never did drink glass 16!  I got the colonoscopy on Halloween – quite apropos really.  That process really deserves another complete Facebook post.  On November 2 I got the all clear, that I could donate my kidney to Bill. We were with Martha’s folks and sister when I got the news. I was so excited. After over 1 year of waiting, Bill would get some relief.

Remember, during this time I never once mentioned to Bill that I was trying to see if I could donate my kidney. Three days a week for up to six hours at a time, Bill was doing dialysis and it literally sucked the life out of him. I often talked to him before dialysis, and then after dialysis and I could hear the drain of energy from his body. I knew that if Bill got a kidney, he would get his life back.

I called Bill on November 2 to tell him that I have been approved to donate my kidney to him. It’s kind of surreal when I really think about it. We talked three times that day and Bill called back the next day to ask me if he been dreaming or if I really said I was going to donate my kidney. We prayed together often over these last five or six years for the kidney donor for Bill ‘s health. I never ever imagined that I was really praying for me.

Once we had the surgery date set for December 10, 2018, Martha and I had to scramble to get everything in place so that we could set aside the radio show for a month and focus on being a living kidney donor. What God had done in Preparing us for this month out of pocket is literally another piece of this miracle. While Martha and I were on the road this fall in September and October we gathered 26 completed radio shows from across the country that we didn’t have a plan for. But God knew we needed extra shows and those shows filled every empty spot we had from December 4 through January 4. Just another amazing part of the story.

To add a little intrigue to all this, how about a little skin cancer. While on the road in October, I grew a new mole on my forehead, so when we got home, I went in on 10/30/18 to have it check out. They sliced it off and sent it in for testing. More waiting. Now part of the process for donating was that I had to get a fresh tetanus shot and a flu shot. While at the doctor’s office getting those shots, I got a call from the dermatologist and I was told that I had skin cancer, the best kind to get, basil cell and that I needed a Mohs surgery to get the cancer site cleaned out.

“Cancer! Come on Lord, I’m trying to donate a kidney here, what gives?  I can’t take any more delays.  The COLONOSCOPY was enough. This feels like piling on!”  This is what I prayed that evening, during my frustration.

I worked on arranging the MOHS surgery for my skin cancer and they said they didn’t have an opening until 12/04/18. I emphatically told the scheduling clerk that 12/04 wouldn’t work. I told her I was trying to donate a kidney and I needed to have surgery and get healed up before 12/10.  She called back in 1 hour and someone had given up their spot so that I could get in on 11/16.  They got the skin cancer out with clean margins and 7 stitches later, I was off and running on our tight schedule for donating a kidney.

Other blessings came in the form of provision. A past living kidney donor set up a go-fund me, some gifts were given, and an amazing ministry called: Helping Hands set up a project and is still able to receive donations to help cover our out of pocket expenses that wouldn’t be covered by the procedure.

The week after Thanksgiving, Abbott Northwestern called, and they said they needed me to have more blood drawn and FedEx it to MN for further testing. Further testing that they said they were going to do in MN on 12/07 pre-op day, but they decided they wanted it sooner. Two days later, many trips to the clinic, and 10 more vials of blood and my donation was even more secure.

We left for MN on 12/3 after our radio show. Did a show in GA on 12/4 and traveled for IA to be with our daughter for a grand re-opening of the Iowa City Pizza Ranch. 12/6 we traveled the rest of the way to MN.

12/07 was pre-op day. As they had in October, they let me know that at any time, I could bail out and not donate for any reason and without any recourse. I reminded them that I am a man of my word and that when I let them take me through tens of thousands of dollars of testing I did it because I was all in from the beginning. Besides, I told Bill I was doing this. Fear never entered my mind and The Peace that Passes all Understanding was walking with me.  Pre-op was uneventful, and we were given final approval. 12/10 I would become a living kidney donor.

I had requested that on 12/9 Bill’s family and close friends and my family come together for a good old MN potluck and prayer time.  So many people had been praying for this donation, that we just all needed to be together one time before surgery. We ate and prayed, and Martha presented Bill and I these neat T Shirts you see in the pictures.  After the potluck we headed to Abbott to begin the surgery prep (read: more colon cleansing).  Oh, did I mention that we had car problems on the way north and while we were in the hospital, Bill’s mechanic Dann Kirschman from DNK Auto Repair repaired our van so we could return to Florida without issues – Thanks Dann!)

Sunday night 12/09 we ate at our favorite Uptown Restaurant – Famous Dave’s. Could have been my last meal, so I got to choose and I do love their ribs!

***

On 12/10/18 Martha and I were up by 4:30am to head to the hospital to donate my left kidney to my friend Bill.  I slept well the night before and was at total peace about the surgery.  We met Bill, his wife Marietta, his daughter Nicole, and his sister Sandy in the lobby of the hotel to ride together to the hospital. We held hands and prayed, posed for pictures by the Christmas tree and headed to the hospital. Once at the hospital Bill and I were split up to be processed and prepped. Things like super neat clothing needed to be put on, along with lots of needles and an IV.  This type of Stuff usually freaks me out, but I said I was willing, and I meant it. Didn’t mean I had to like it, but knew it was all necessary.  Dr. Stahler, my surgeon, came in to see me before surgery and prayed with Martha and me. It was something we had done together many times in prep for this Kidney donation.  At 7:38am I went back for surgery and the last I remember is them putting the mask on me to knock me out. The next thing I remember is waking up 4 hours later in post op feeling like I had done 1000 sit-ups.

In the recovery room, all I was concerned about was knowing if my kidney was working in Bill.  The detailed testing proved that my kidney was healthy, but that was no guarantee that it would work in my friend.  By 1pm I was in my room. I kept asking about Bill, but it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that I heard the good news. My kidney was in Bill and it was working really well. So well, that before the surgery was complete my kidney was producing urine inside Bill.
The first night, Bill’s new kidney cleaned out 8 liters from his body. (By the way, I thought the metric system was dead but apparently not in hospitals)

The rest has been recovery. As I write, it’s day 24 since surgery, and I am almost back to normal. A few more weeks and I am sure I will be.  The trip home in the back row of the van was easier than I thought.  Martha and our daughter Sarah might say differently as they were the ones driving.  We were blessed to be home in Florida by Christmas Eve.

I consider it an amazing privilege to donate my kidney to Bill. It is as a miracle that I was such a good match.  I see God had His hand in our friendship over 30 years ago and still does today. (Part of me lives back in MN) I get to check on my kidney as often as I want, and it is a miracle to hear from Bill how well he is doing. His health has an impact on his whole family.  I just can’t believe that my willing sacrifice is making such a difference. It didn’t bring Bill back to life, it brought life back to Bill.

I want others to learn something from this journey. God created each of us with two kidneys. Some of you need both of your kidneys, but most of us have two kidneys and could live with one and donate the other.

Organ Donation and Transplantation Statistics

  • There are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the U.S. Of these, 100,791 await kidney transplants. (as of 1/11/16)

  • The median wait time for an individual’s first kidney transplant is 3.6 years and can vary depending on health, compatibility and availability of organs.

  • In 2014, 17,107 kidney transplants took place in the US. Of these, 11,570 came from deceased donors and 5,537 came from living donors.

On average:

  • Over 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.

  • 13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.

  • Every 14 minutes someone is added to the kidney transplant list.

  • In 2014, 4,761 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant. Another, 3,668 people became too sick to receive a kidney transplant.

You can experience a miracle too. Consider being a living Kidney Donor.  Yes, you will give up some free time for testing and recovery, but for such a small sacrifice, you can bring life back to a family member or close friend.

It is our Prayer that God will use our story to inspire thousands to consider donating a kidney to someone in need. Why else would God ask a Radio talk show host to step up.

I cannot go without mentioning that none of this would have been possible without my incredible wife of 32 years, Martha. This was just as much a sacrifice and commitment for her as it was for me. Martha, I love you and I am so grateful to have you by my side each and every day. Thank you for letting me donate my kidney to Bill.

 

Happy New Year to each of you. Let’s all practice putting others first this year and change your family, your workplace, your neighborhood and our nation.

God’s not done writing this story - so please stay tuned for more to be shared and unfold.

About the Author, Jim Brangenberg

Jim's Mission: We are called to be examples of Christ to those around us. With that in mind, Jim is passionate about helping Christ followers connect their faith to their work!


Martha Brangenberg