by Christopher Bachler
– Part Two
Christopher Bachler, who writes “The Thinker,” an occasional column for the Local, donated one of his kidneys to his sister, Nancy, in 1994, but after four years it failed and had to be removed. As a result, Nancy had to go back on dialysis.
One day in October, 1999, my sister Nancy happened to answer a phone for a fellow employee who was at lunch. She was just about to leave for lunch, herself. But something told her to pick up that phone.
The caller was Mike Stake, who worked for a man who was a close friend of Nancy’s boss, then chairman of the Department of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Colorado. Mike’s diabetic boss needed a kidney transplant, and Mike was calling to get information on behalf of his boss.
“Mike wanted to get his boss admitted to the university and on the transplant list,” Nancy recalls. “Mike explained why he was calling, and we discussed the details.”
“How do you know so much about this?” Mike asked Nancy.
“Because I’m on dialysis and on a waiting list for a kidney,” Nancy replied.
“How would I go about giving you one of my kidneys?” Mike asked.
Nancy was startled. “That’s nice of you to offer,” she said, “but a kidney transplant is a major operation.”
Mike persisted. “I really want to know what’s involved,” he insisted.
“Nancy was adamant that I shouldn’t do this,” Mike recollects. “But I kept at her until she told me who I could talk to in order to get the blood tests going.”
“I advised him to call the transplant coordinator, who would explain the whole process to him,” Nancy said.
Mike took the blood test the following day. A few days later, the coordinator called both Nancy and Mike and reported that they were a five antigen match. That is a compatibility rate of 85 percent. I, Nancy’s blood brother, was only a 50 percent match!
By early January, the date for the surgery was set. But then something strange happened. “The surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2000,” Nancy explains. “But my boss (head of surgery) was going to be out of town that day. So he had the surgery moved up to Monday, Feb. 7, so he could be here.” Nancy’s original transplant occurred on MONDAY, FEB. 7, 1994, the exact same day of the week and date, six years before! What are those odds?
Fortunately for Mike, the surgery was simpler than it had been six years earlier. My incision was about 14 inches long, which involved a lot of cut muscles and pain. But thanks to laparoscopic surgery, Mike’s incision was only four inches wide. And while I was hospitalized for eight days, Mike was out of the hospital in only a few days, and back to work within a week!
The outcome of this second surgery has also been good. Now more than 14 years after her second surgery, Nancy’s condition is good and her prospects better than before since her doctors know so much more about the proper mix of anti-rejection medications she needs. “Both of us have done well since surgery,” Nancy says. “My prognosis is very good, and I have blood work done every couple of months so they can monitor my creatinine and medications.”
Lots of people call wonderful things “miracles.” Sometimes those good things are just lucky coincidences, but Nancy sees more here. Just consider, as she points out, the number of strange coincidences that occurred in this case.
“It had to be a miracle,” she says. “The chances of having a brother donate a kidney, and then having a stranger do the same, are pretty small. If I hadn’t answered that phone call, we might never have had that conversation. If Mike hadn’t offered to do it, if we hadn’t been a good match, and if there hadn’t been the experimental IV drug therapy that got rid of the antibody that I had developed, I couldn’t have had that transplant. Then there was the coincidental date of surgery in both cases — Monday, Feb. 7. It just worked out that way.”
Nancy’s and Mike’s families remain close, even though they now live in different states.
But who could help but wonder what drives a man like Mike, whose modesty has kept him from telling more than a few people. The reasons he offers are simple. “It was for love of another person that I made my offer,” he says. “My faith is incredibly important to me.”
He said it best in a letter he sent his parents just before he underwent surgery:
“I have listened to many people ask why I don’t save the kidney for my own family. My response is that I would, if a family member were in need. But the need is now, and the person is Nancy.
“The next question I’m asked is, ‘Why a stranger?’ My answer is that there are no strangers to me. Are we not all looking for the same things in life — love, compassion, peace, and health? The gift I offer is life.”