More than 20 years ago while at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Rev. Jeffrey Dauses, a pastor at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church, was asked if he wanted to be an organ donor, to which he immediately said yes.
“I was raised to share with those in need,” Dauses said. “My parents would say if you can do something to help, you should do it.”
One such person in need was a woman named Cindy, who lives in West Virginia. Cindy was recently diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. She had seen the devastating effects of this disease because family members had passed away after the same diagnosis. Cindy would start dialysis and be added to the national transplant waiting list.
Donate Life America reports a three- to five-year wait for a kidney from a deceased donor. Among donation facts on the website www.donatelife.net, the organization says, “Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the national transplant waiting list — and 82 percent of patients waiting are in need of a kidney.”
Currently, 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant.
With the odds stacked against her sister, Joann McKnab, a parishioner at St. Andrew by the Bay, approached Dauses eight months ago about putting a living donor announcement in the parish bulletin. McKnab was not eligible to donate her kidney due to family history; however, if their family were able to identify an altruistic (living) donor, Cindy would be moved to the top of the waiting list. Without a potential donor, Cindy would wait for a cadaver kidney.
“I told Father Jeff what we were going through, and before I could even finish my sentence, he said he’d do it,” McKnab explained. “I kind of laughed because that’s just like him, and we were very happy, but we had no idea he’d be a match with Cindy.”
Dauses said, “I had always intended to donate my organs at death, but I had never considered or was aware, other than anecdotally, being a living donor,” Dauses said. “I thought, ‘I could do that, if I could. And, if I could do that, I probably should do it … no, I must do that!’”
The first test for compatibility was a simple one. Both Dauses and Cindy had O positive blood; first test passed. A battery of medical tests followed, each getting more and more in-depth, and each indicating Dauses and Cindy were a match.
There were also psychological evaluations for Dauses. Was he sure? Was he receiving any compensation from the family?
“The Johns Hopkins transplant team was really focused on my health and wanted to be sure that my health would not be negatively affected now or in the future,” Dauses said. “I did a lot of research, spoke to a lot of living donors and received a lot of great information. I was ready.”
In January, the two were officially declared perfect matches and began prepping for their surgeries, which could take up to six months to schedule. But Dauses had a request.
“I called my case manager and said, ‘I cannot miss Ash Wednesday and I need to be back well before Holy Week,’” Dauses said.
On Sunday, March 10, the first Sunday of Lent following Ash Wednesday, Dauses stood in front of the St. Andrew congregation during Mass and announced that he’d be heading to Johns Hopkins the following day to donate a kidney. He then called Cindy to the front and administered the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Everyone in the packed church prayed over her and Dauses.
After Mass, Dauses was approached by Cindy’s eldest son, who hugged him and whispered, “Thank you for saving my mom’s life.”
“I was in tears,” Dauses said. “I was honored to have the privilege to do this for Cindy.”
The surgery went well for both donor and recipient. The part of the surgery that Dauses was most dreading, the after surgery pain, “was no big deal.”
Initially told he’d need six weeks to recover, Dauses needed just short of two weeks. He posted on his Facebook page that his surgeon called him “the poster boy for organ donation” because he was able to bounce back so quickly.
Cindy will live with family in Maryland so that she can be close to Johns Hopkins during her recovery before moving back to West Virginia.
Dauses says his life really hasn’t changed. He now carries a card saying that he has just one kidney, and should he need prescription medicine in the future, the dosage might be different now that he has one kidney rather than two. His remaining kidney will enlarge and do the work of two without impacting the rest of his body.
Living donors do not have any financial requirements. In fact, Dauses says he was never once asked to show his health insurance card. To learn more about organ donation, visit the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center online at www.hopkinsmedicine.org/transplant.
“There really is no better feeling than giving the gift of life,” said Dauses, who is back to full duties as a pastor well before Holy Week.