Science and spirit allow the gift of life

Science and spirit allow the gift of life
The Right Rev. Creighton Robertson, originally from Sisseton and a member of the Dakota tribe, stands nearly 6' 5'' tall.

Rev. Mercy Hobbs of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Vermillion is a petite, blue-eyed woman with blonde hair originally from New Jersey.

The two are a perfect match.

Creighton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota, now lives in Sioux Falls with his wife, Ann. He is on the road to living a normal lifestyle once again after receiving one of Mercy's kidneys in a transplant opera- tion a month ago at the Mayo Clinic at Rochester, MN.

The journey that eventually led to this successful procedure began months ago.

"Let's go for it"

"It started last summer � Creighton had gone through two potential donors and they both discovered, when they went to the Mayo Clinic, that they each had health issues they had to take care of before they could ever be considered donors again.

"After that happened last summer, David and I said to each other, ?let's go for it. Let's pray about it and decide if its something we'd like to do to be potential donors,'" Mercy said.

Mercy and David also communicated closely with Creighton, who is no stranger to Vermillion. He's a graduate of the School of Law at The University of South Dakota. His son Jon and daughter-in-law Carol operate the Cherry Street Grille here, and are involved in civic projects in the community.

"First we talked to Creighton, and said we had been thinking and praying about doing this," Mercy said. David and Mercy both went to the Mayo Clinic last fall for blood tests.

"We received news that I was compatible, but David was not," she said, "because of our blood types."

Mercy returned to the Mayo Clinic in September to undergo a complete battery of health tests.

"That was great, because it was time for my annual physical anyway," she said, "but at the same time I was scared because with the two previous donor candidates, they had found some significant health problems."

Mercy gained comfort, however, by realizing that if doctors had discovered some unknown health problem as her tests continued, it would be a blessing in disguise since treatment would immediately follow.

The green light

"As it turned out, after the two days of testing, I got the green light," Mercy said. "I called Creighton right away, and he was fairly speechless. I think he nearly fell off his chair, judging from our telephone conversation."

The kidney transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic was scheduled in early December.

Mercy and David didn't initially travel to the clinic armed with personal research about the kidney transplant process. They didn't spend any considerable time reading about the topic in books, or on the Internet.

"Actually, we knew next to nothing about it," Mercy said laughing.

"It was a leap of faith � that's exactly what it was," David said. "We didn't do either any self-education, or put ourselves in the way of education until we got to Mayo for those two days of testing in October. Then they give you all the information � they tell you what it is going to be like, and what to expect."

Mercy also received more than just a complete physical.

"They also do psychological screening," David said. "They have social workers and psychologists who question you to make sure you want to do this for the right reasons."

The fact that Creighton, in his role as bishop, is also Mercy's boss was cause for a bit of concern during the psychological screening. Mayo staff members, eventually, were convinced that this working relationship was not playing a part in Mercy's decision.

"I said ?yes, he's my boss, but I really want to do this,'" she said.

Creighton and Mercy kept in contact and both decided to try to have the transplant surgery as soon as possible.

The earliest date the operations could be performed at the Mayo Clinic was Dec. 2.

"That day couldn't have come fast enough," Mercy said, "especially for Creighton, and I don't blame him."

"He had been on dialysis for about two years," David said, "and had been looking for a donor even before that."

A sense of freedom

Creighton was unavailable for comment, but Mercy and David have communicated with him often since the transplant.

Mercy's gift of one of her kidneys has given him a new sense of freedom that most healthy people take for granted.

Before the transplant, Creighton's failing kidneys couldn't be counted on to keep him healthy. He had to undergo the grueling process of dialysis to remove toxins from his blood.

It's a task that involves being hooked to a machine for four hours a day, three day a week.

"He was so tied down to that dialysis appointment," Creighton's wife, Ann, told Mercy in a recent phone conversation. The Robertsons still must visit their physician on a regular basis to check on the status of the newly transplanted kidney.

"And every aspect of Creighton is like a night and day difference � not just physically, but spiritually, mentally and emotionally," David said.

"The (dialysis) process apparently just beats people up," he said. "You are constantly fatigued."

The big day

On Dec. 2, the Robertsons and Mercy and David found themselves in the amazing transplant center of the Mayo Clinic.

"Just with the reputation of the place ? I was thinking if there ever was a place to be a donor or a recipient, this was the place," Mercy said. "It was just a wonderful experience."

Mercy and Creighton were involved in the second kidney transplant of that day. She was wheeled into surgery first, and 90 minutes later, Creighton was prepared for surgery in a nearby operating room.

Following the surgery, doctors described the remarkable events that are growing more and more common with successful transplant operations.

When surgeons placed Mercy's kidney into Creighton's body, "it immediately ?pinked' right up," David said, "and started producing.

"Mercy's surgeon told her she really has a ?buff' kidney," he said.

Doctor's didn't remove Creighton's kidneys. They opted to leave them so that he would experience less trauma from the operation.

"The surgeons inserted Mercy's kidney low in the abdomen, in close proximity to the bladder," David said. "Mayo has done over 3,000 live donor kidney transplants, and they said that the difference between using a live donor compared to a cadaver donor is just amazing.

"The percentage of success is so much better," he said, "and the longevity of that kidney is dramatically better as well."

By that night, he said, both Mercy and Creighton were able to sit up in their hospital beds.

"The difference in Creighton was just absolutely amazing," David said. "He looked so sick and so tired and so beat up before the operation, and suddenly here was the guy that I first met 15 years ago who was vital and strong and upbeat and positive. It is just amazing."

A celebration

The success of the operations was more than enough reason for both emotional and spiritual celebrations.

"All of Creighton's family was there," David said. "We celebrated Holy Communion the night before the surgery in Creighton's hotel room.

David was celebrant as everyone celebrated Eucharist again on Sunday morning, Dec. 4.

"We celebrated that in the transplant family lounge, and we had about 20 Episcopalians there, and we gathered other transplant patients and other transplant families," he said. "The spiritual aspect was definitely there."

"It's been documented how much intentionally paying attention to the part of us that's spiritual makes a difference," Mercy said. "Whether praying before surgery, or praying during surgery � it does make a big difference, because we are all spiritual beings. That helps with the success, the feeling of being supported."

Mercy hopes a growing number of people will, like her, consider becoming a living organ donor.

"More and more people who are donors who are not related to the recipient is on the rise," she said.

"Researchers are finding that being a blood relative is not the magic now," David said."And there are so many people out there waiting for kidneys."

Recovery nearly complete

A month after the operations, Mercy's recovery is nearly complete.

"People ask me if I feel different, or if I have restrictions now that I have only one kidney," Mercy said, "and I say ?no, and there are no restrictions except for the first six weeks you aren't supposed to lift anything heavier than a milk jug.

Mercy's remaining kidney also will grow, according to doctors. When she had two kidneys, each took on about 50 percent of the workload of filtering toxins from her blood.

Now her lone kidney will eventually increase its workload to 70 percent.

"It's just a way for it to compensate since its working alone now," Mercy said.

David added that long-term research has shown that a person can live a normal life with a single kidney.

"People with a single kidney have as long of a life, with no negative effects, and no more kidney problems than the general population," David said.

It's easy to credit advances in medicine and scientific research, and to the remarkable resiliency of the human body for the success of the kidney transplant.

Mercy and David are convinced that they've been involved in something that goes beyond pure science, however.

"Forget the religious spin, but tell me that this isn't a miracle," David said. "It's new life for both the recipient and the donor, because there's a whole new appreciation in our family for life and for what we have � a new awareness, a new sense of not taking anything for granted.

"We are just blessed to be able to share in this way," he said.

"Our lives have been changed forever because of this," Mercy said. "This has made me realize of how God created us � with two kidneys � it gives us the ability to do this for another person and it was just a natural decision.

"It's gift we've been given to help one another, to minister to one another, to give the gift of life," she said.

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