Robert is a perfect example of the miracles of modern medicine and old fashioned prayer and the generosity of his uncle, John. As we approach the eighth anniversary of his liver transplant, he is literally a poster child for organ donation. (His picture was on a huge billboard for months!) He has been invited to throw out the first pitch at the Memphis Redbird’s game on Tuesday night, and we will all be going to cheer him on.
Our joy is tempered by the news yesterday that one of our cousins, Geoffrey, age nine, is in the hospital with liver problems. He will undergo a liver biopsy tomorrow morning.
Geoffrey is the only child of wonderful parents, just as Robert was when his liver failed. He has loving grandparents and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins scattered all over the United States. Many will gather to volunteer as donors should he need a transplant.
I can’t help but recall those days when we first knew that Robert was ill and unlikely to improve without a new liver. Since he was only four, the requirements for a cadaver donor limited the available possibilities seriously. There were nearly twenty volunteers, some of them mere acquaintances of the family.
On the afternoon of the meeting to select a living donor for Robert, there were so many of us that the hospital opened a second waiting area, and the people remaining in ours were mostly our family and close friends all anxiously awaiting the announcement of who the donor would be. As I squirmed on the straight back plastic chairs I chatted a bit with Katie’s mother-in-law. My attention span was all over the place, listening in on several conversations at once, hoping someone had some information from the meeting. When I looked back to John’s mother, she was crying. John, had been chosen to be Robert’s donor from among all the volunteers. None of the volunteers were blood relatives, because those of us with the right type blood were too old or infirm to qualify, and Katie was pregnant. Robert’s parents were not a match. John was “it”.
I don’t know who I thought might be brave enough to donate a portion of their liver after hearing the doctor’s presentation of the risks involved. John had told us he was going to volunteer, but with a wife in her seventh month of her first pregnancy, I didn’t really consider the possibility of John being the donor. I was stunned, but not nearly as stunned as his family must have been. His mother was about to witness her son offering up his life to save that of my grandchild. She and Katie and his dad would nurse him through the difficult recovery.
Until John started dating Katie, we hadn't seen him for almost a decade after high school. He was a Mel Gibson look-alike, fun-loving, athletic, and socially adept. Religious? Not so much. During their engagement, John kept us all in stitches citing some of the biblical attitudes he picked up on in pre-marital counseling. He loved the verses about wives obeying husbands, and teased Katie about following that particular part of The Bible. She was not amused. We had never discussed any other particulars of John’s faith, but I kind of assumed that, like John, his faith might not fit the usual mold.
When Molly was about eight, I sent her off to a Christian Camp. Now, we are Episcopalians, and definitely consider ourselves to be Christians, but to some more conservative Christians, we’re totally not in their league in the salvation department. Molly's counselor that year took her counseling duties very seriously. On one of the first nights at camp, she had her small charges get into their bunks and close their eyes in prayer. Molly, being the obedient child that she was, complied, but being the curious child that she is, when the counselor asked them to raise their hands if they were “saved”, Molly peeked.
Molly and another little girl from our church were the only ones without their hands raised. They were not saved. “Well, would you like to be,” the earnest counselor inquired. I don’t think Molly had a clue as to what they were talking about, but whatever it was, she wanted to be like the other girls in her group. She nodded, and accepted Our Lord, Jesus Christ, as her personal Lord and Savior on the top bunk of a camp in Mississippi. Apparently that experience took.
During Robert's illness, Molly exhibited a faith that was like the rock that all religions are based upon. Shortly after I totally fell apart at the prospect of losing my only grandchild, she gave me a little tile with a verse from Joshua. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified' do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 And she meant for me to obey God, and her, and be brave, so I was...kind of.
Up till that point in my life, I would have called myself more of a searcher than a believer, but I think that most of us were believers during those days when we were praying for Robert, and then for John. It seemed that we had no other choice but to believe.
But, John… I just don’t know. He was curious about religion in an intellectual kind of way, all religions,but “saved”…who knows.
I came to realize later, though, that John knew all about salvation. John knew that Robert’s life needed salvation on a blood and guts level, and he was ready to offer it to him in a heartbeat.
That night as John was being poked and prodded and tested, he was relaxed. He had a sure confidence that he was meant to do this thing. I know that Molly and her husband, the hospital staff, and surely his family had tried to get him to step back and really think about his momentous decision more carefully. John had already thought about the decision as much as he was likely to, and his mind was made up. I don’t know whether he prayed before deciding to donate a portion of his liver, because there was very little time. Robert wasn’t going to survive the night without a transplant. A cadaver liver had been located, but rejected because it was too large for the tiny body. If John matched, Robert would live. If he didn’t…the alternative was unthinkable.
John and a group of doctors of many faiths and ethnicities saved Robert’s life. I don’t know exactly how many of them were practicing Christians, probably a small minority, but that didn’t matter. They all worked together as if they knew that they were part of God’s perfect plan during that time. After the surgery, one of the doctors made the first reference I had heard from them about faith. He told us that the team had done their part, and now God must do His. He didn’t name his God or discuss with us what god we prayed to. That didn’t really matter at all at that point. We had no control, God did.
I will be praying for Geoffrey and his family tonight and I hope you will too. I know that that precious child too will be saved.