‘Heroic act’: Parishioner donates kidney to fellow parishioner
By Enedelia J. Obregón
Fifteen years ago, Tami Mena felt a calling. She tried to discern what it was, but with three daughters in school and the demands of work, she was unable to figure it out.
“I just wasn’t able to quiet myself,” said Mena, a parishioner at St. Thomas More Parish in Austin. “I was left with a lot of guilt.”
Last year, she knew exactly what she was called to do: Donate a kidney to fellow parishioner Cindy Galvin. Mena became the second parishioner to become a living donor. In 2008, Peggy Miller donated a kidney to Theresa Roberge.
The four women met and prayed together, with Miller and Roberge available to answer questions as needed.
Galvin began having problems with her kidneys 20 years ago. Three years ago, she became severely anemic and developed a host of problems. This happened as her husband, Dave, dealt with Parkinson’s disease and one of her three sons, David –– now in remission –– was dealing with colon cancer.
Her doctor installed a catheter in preparation for dialysis in 2014, which required a second surgery last November to position it correctly.
Dialysis is no easy task. Doing it at home is challenging but would allow her to do dialysis at night. However, it required Galvin to take classes so she could learn how to use the machine. She kept getting sick, so it took her much longer than expected to finish the classes. On Christmas Eve 2015, she started dialysis three times a week.
Last September, she posted a prayer request on Facebook to her Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) team and to friends. She also asked if anyone would consider becoming a living donor.
Mena saw the post.
“I continued to pray,” Mena said. “Within a couple of hours I had this torment. I couldn’t discern what it was about. For three days I couldn’t sleep.”
She was taking Oremus, a Catholic prayer study program. Every Scripture reading spoke to Mena about trust. She received a mug that read “I got this –– God.” Even music on the radio spoke to her. In a charism workshop she attended she scored abnormally high in the trust category.
She decided to get tested for organ compatibility.
“I’m terrified of needles,” she said. “They took 14 vials of blood.”
She was so tense she got a stitch in her side.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Mena said. “I said, ‘Lord, take care of it.’ And it was gone! I literally felt the Spirit right here, having a dialogue. I was totally at peace. No concerns.”
Mena’s husband, Augie, was concerned about his wife, but was not one to get in the way of his wife’s calling. Her daughters were also supportive.
After months of medical and psychological tests, she was approved as a match.
“You have to be in perfect health,” said Mena, 54. Another parishioner was a match but was declined due to a minor medical problem.
But life got in the way. Mena’s daughter, Stephanie, got married on April 9 and then she had to be out of town April 18. The original surgery was scheduled for this past April 19 at Scott & White Hospital in Temple. Galvin’s CRHP team had scheduled a Mass and rosary the day before. However, Galvin couldn’t attend because she got sick.
The surgery was rescheduled twice and finally set for June 22, the feast day of St. Thomas More. For both women, it was just one of several affirmations that it was meant to be.
Galvin realizes that there can never be enough gratitude.
“When you’re sick, you have to go through this,” she said. “Tami didn’t have to go through this.”
The odds are better for the recipient receiving an organ from a live donor because the donor is healthier. The wait for a cadaver organ is eight to 10 years. A 2005 Gallup poll showed that while 95 percent of people in the U.S. “support or strongly support” organ donation, only 40 percent of eligible donors over 18 have registered.
“When I started dialysis, I thought, ‘can I do this for eight to 10 years?’” she said.
Mena said she would have regretted it the rest of her life if she’d declined to donate her kidney.
“I’d have felt as guilty as I did 15 years ago,” she said. “But this time, it was crystal clear.”
For Galvin, it has meant being able to take care of her family.
“I can take care of my husband,” she said. “One night, I was on dialysis and he fell asleep when I had trouble disconnecting from the machine. I couldn’t get him to wake up from where I was. Now, I can just get up and take care of him because Tami took care of me.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons” (CCC 2296).
St. John Paul II in the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” listed organ donation among “heroic acts,” stating that, “A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner.”
How to become a donor
As in most states, Texans can sign up to be organ donors by signing the back of their driver’s license upon renewal. Those who do intend to be an organ donor upon their death are encouraged to let their family members know of their intentions and to include their intentions in their living will.
According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, organs that can be transplanted include kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestines and heart. Only with the heart must the donor be deceased, either through cardiac death or brain death.
According to the Southwest Organ Alliance, there are 123,000 people nationwide awaiting an organ transplant. Of those, 13,300 are in Texas. Every 10 minutes, someone is placed on the waiting list. Every day, 22 people die awaiting an organ transplant.
For more information and to register to be a donor, visit the website for the Southwest Transplant Alliance at www.organ.org or Donate Life Texas, the Texas donor registry, at www.donatelifetexas.org.