The chances of finding an exact match with an unrelated organ donor are one in 100,000, so when John Hoffman needed a kidney, he was surprised to find a match in his church’s 40-person congregation.
“That was unbelievable,” Hoffman said. “That’s just unheard of. It worked out great.”
Hoffman had been diagnosed with pancreatitis, had his gall bladder removed and found his kidney function was at 20 percent and dropping. His doctor told him it was time to look for a kidney donor.
Patients needing a kidney transplant usually get one from a family member or have to wait around three years for a cadaver donor.
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“I started this whole process in July 2016,” Hoffman said. “I told our church and had several people volunteer; family members volunteered.”
Through health screenings, blood typing and tissue typing, some volunteers were disqualified. Wanting to help spread the word, Shana Leck, a member of Monitor Church of the Brethren with Hoffman, had her blood drawn for testing as well.
“I put my name in and started the process myself just to get some information so I could tell other people about it,” Leck explained.
Her blood sample was sent to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, but there, they hit an insurance hiccup and Hoffman had to change providers.
“He had to start the testing from ground zero,” Leck said. “I think that set him back about four months.”
Leck made weekly calls to see if Hoffman had been put on the waiting list for a kidney and when he was, she gave permission for KU Medical Center to access the results from the sample she had already given. She was surprised when her phone rang that afternoon with the news that she was a match.
“After being put off for weeks and months, I was not expecting that fast of a reaction,” Leck said. “I guess you could say I was in shock. I really didn’t think that was a possibility, but I think I knew right away that I would go through with it.”
Less than a week before she received the call, Leck participated in a Bible study with other members of her church.
“The combination of two scriptures and meditation time and the responses I and other people gave, it just hit like a brick,” Leck said. “I was going to do it, there was no question about it, and it was time to have some serious conversations with my family.”
Leck said her husband supported her decision and her children did, as well.
“I’m sure they had their own fears, but we let them know they could always ask questions and talk to us about it,” Leck said.
Save the date
For a kidney transplant, the donor choses the date of the surgery. Leck knew it was time to tell Hoffman the good news.
“I sent him a Save the Date announcement with both of our pictures. It was really goofy,” Leck laughed.
“You can call it a miracle, you can call it a blessing – I was very grateful she was a match,” Hoffman said.
The surgery was scheduled for June 20, giving Leck time to enjoy her son’s graduation.
“We didn’t tell the public right away, because I didn’t want to be bombarded with questions and I wanted life to be as normal as possible,” Leck explained.
Leck spent a day undergoing tests, talking to people on transplant team including case workers, psychologists, dietitians, surgeons and an anesthesiologist who answered her questions and evaluated her mental stability and physical fitness.
Laying next to each other as they prepared for the surgery, others from the church came and created a prayer chain around them.
“I imagine that’s fairly unusual,” Leck said.
Leck said Phillipians 4:8 was a verse that was meaningful for her in that time.
“To have that scripture and the people that came in to visit pray with me and for me, remind me of that scripture and say it out loud was very powerful,” Leck said.
Hoffman’s new kidney was transplanted successfully. His old kidneys were not removed.
“My other kidneys will eventually just shrink to the size of walnuts and they’ll never be useful again,” Hoffman explained.
Leck said the surgery went as expected and that the hospital staff were very attentive.
“I don’t recall that afternoon at all,” Leck said. “They said I would be up and walking that day. I was not. The following day was pretty rough, as far as pain goes.”
“The first several weeks were kind of rough, just like the doctors said it would be,” Hoffman said. “For me, it was a matter of balancing my body’s resistance to the kidney and the kidney’s ability to get used to my body and the tons of medication I have to take to make the two work together.”
When Hoffman had to go back to the hospital several times, several people asked Leck if she would be okay with her decision if he died from his body rejecting the kidney.
“In the moment, I was able to respond to all three people with honesty and say, ‘yes,’” Leck said. “I knew that rejection was a possibility. But thank God – literally, thank God – he’s doing well.”
For both Hoffman and Leck, the biggest side effect from the surgery is a lack of energy.
“I yawn a lot,” Leck said.
Many volunteered to help Leck, doing house cleaning, providing rides for her children, harvesting her garden and bringing meals.
“We did have an incredible amount of support,” Leck said. “Knowing that the congregation, friends, families and neighbors would support us was fabulous and they did. They followed through.”
Donations covered Leck’s traveling expenses and all her medical bills will be paid by Hoffman’s insurance.
Still, recuperation has not been easy for Leck, who said she does not like to sit around.
“I picked up the broom and I couldn’t make the side-to-side motions because of the incisions,” Leck said. “I went to try to sweep the kitchen and I couldn’t.”
It will take six months to a year for both Leck and Hoffman to fully recover.
“I’ll be capable of doing anything I could before,” Leck explained.
Hoffman is now able to get back to ministerial work, visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes, thank to Leck.
“Shana’s one of the most trustworthy and honest people I know,” Hoffman said. “She has integrity. She’s a good friend, and not just because she gave me a kidney. She was a good friend before and after that.”
“Without a doubt, I’m glad that I did it,” Leck said.