No Greater Experience

How would I feel if my kidneys failed? This is a question that I never entertained as I was a person who exercised every day whether it required going to the gym or running in the neighborhood. Being fit was something I was dedicated to and did not think about health problems. However, three years ago God blessed me with a friend that would allow me to be a witness to God’s miracle with a front-row seat regarding kidney failure.

Anthony Miller Sr. is his name. He was the person in charge of the weight room where I exercised. His wife and son also worked in the weight room at different shifts. His wife (Mary) and son (Anthony Jr.) would play an important role in this story. Before we got to know each other, I would watch Anthony interact with the public and found him to be a genuine person who got along with everyone. Each time I left the gym he would hand me my card along with a handshake and would say, ‘Take care Dennis’. I walked away thinking there is something special about him. As it would turn out I was right.

After talking with Anthony on a few occasions, I learned that he was in his late 40s suffering from kidney failure and diabetes. He had to go to dialysis 3 times a week since 2001 and these sessions would be at least 4 hours long. I learned that dehydration, muscle spasms and irregular blood pressure were common problems with dialysis patients. I understood that he did not like dialysis because of this but at no time in our conversations did Anthony complain or ask the ‘why me?’ question. I inquired how dialysis worked and he showed me the huge welts that were black and blue on his upper left arm. Many of our conversations were about the importance of families in our lives and we found that we had a lot in common. He has two children and so do I. His son and my son are named Anthony. He and I both went into the military at the age of 18. The more we talked, the more I was impressed with Anthony. I found out that he was on the list to receive a kidney but did not have a lot of hope of getting to the top of the list. One night, he told me that he had a conversation with his wife and in that conversation he said that if he lived to see the age of 50 he would not have any complaints. I asked him about possible donors and he said he would not accept a kidney from his children because diabetes ran in his family and he could and would not put their future health in jeopardy. I had already been praying for Anthony to be healed but on this night, God began the process that would lead to Anthony’s healing.

Even though I never heard Anthony ask ‘why me’, I would always ask myself, ‘why Anthony?’. Here was a man who was dedicated to his family and was simply a ‘good man’. On the night he told me that he would not accept a kidney from his children, I drove home asking God ‘Why is this man suffering?’ and thinking that there must be a reason for God having Anthony and I cross paths. Simply put, God spoke to me on this night. I know this because as I drove, I felt a sense of peace and assurance that Anthony was going to be healed. God told me that he was going to heal Anthony and that my kidney would be needed as a show of trust in His power. From this point on I was a changed man.

There were many nights that I stayed awake thinking about what was going to happen. I had yet to tell my wife, Crystal, but I was sure that if I told her the whole story she would be supportive. She had met Anthony and saw right away that he was a special person. Crystal and I went to the gym one night and I saw Anthony who did not look well. He was walking as if to avoid pain. I found out through our conversation that the veins in his arm that were used for dialysis were collapsing and the medical staff had to insert a catheter in his chest. We talked about it and again I want to emphasize that my friend never said, ‘why me?’. One question that I asked Anthony as I left was what his blood type was and he told me that he was O positive. At this point, I knew that God’s plan was going to work. As Crystal and I drove home, I turned down the radio and said, ‘Crystal, I want to run something by you and I will understand if you have a problem with it. I believe God has told me that Anthony will be healed from kidney failure if I donate my kidney to him. I know that this is what God wants and I am asking for your opinion.’ Not knowing how she would react, I waited for her response. She said that if I believed that this was God’s will then she will support the decision I make. The next step would be to ask Anthony if he would accept my kidney.

The next weekend Anthony still had the catheter in his chest and I knew I had to ask him soon. That afternoon Anthony went on break before I could talk to him. I was leaving the rec center when he called my name. We spoke for a few minutes and I could see he was not feeling the best. I asked him if he would accept a kidney if someone offered and he paused a few seconds and said, ‘yes’. I then told him, ‘Tony, I believe God is going to heal you if you accept my kidney. What do you think?’ He paused and he looked confused like he did not get what I was saying. He rephrased the question back to me. ‘What you are saying is that you are offering me your kidney?’ I said yes. I could see that he was overwhelmed but he said he would accept it and I knew then that I was looking at a soon-to-be healed man. I cannot tell you how it feels to see a man suffering and not complaining transform into a man beginning to believe that he was going to be healed. I don’t think there can be a greater feeling.

Within a few days, I contacted the renal transplant coordinator for Norfolk Sentara Hospital, Ms. Britt. We spoke on the phone and I had to answer several questions relating to my health history. She was so great on the phone. ‘Are you related?’ No. Are you life long friends? No. These were two of the questions asked of me. I then told her I would explain if she had a few minutes. I told her about the story that God told me to do this and that this was going to work. I thought she would classify me as mental but she said she completely understood and that many others have come forward with the same reasoning. Her making me feel comfortable talking about this was a blessing. The conversation ended with an appointment for me to have my blood tested to see if I was a match with Anthony. To give another example of how my spiritual journey was so great because of the people I met on the way, the person who drew my blood was reporting to work for the first time since having her kidney removed due to cancer. She told me that the surgery was not difficult and that physically life does not change. Ms. Britt called me and confirmed that my blood type was compatible with Anthony ‘s. The next series of tests would be to see if I was healthy enough to donate and to see if my kidneys were strong.

Since I was a teacher, I wanted to donate in the summer, five months away. However, one night at a high school basketball game that both Anthony and I attended, I found out that Anthony’s medication was being increased. One thing I found during my research was that the transplant could only be done if the recipient was healthy enough to go through with the operation. I emailed Roland French, a second renal transplant coordinator, and asked if the date could be moved up. He responded that they had a date of April 4, but I would have to undergo the tests in a short period of time. The tests included chest x-rays, CAT scans, blood work and a meeting with the social worker. The meeting with the social worker was for them basically to make sure that this is what the donor wants. The results of the tests were positive and the April 4 day was the date set for the transplant. The last appointment was with the doctor who would be performing the operation, Dr. Roby. Sitting in his presence was an awesome experience. He was so confident yet he was up front with all the realities of being a donor. He explained the process to me and finally talked to Anthony and I at the same time. We were 4 days away from the surgery. After our meeting with Dr. Roby, Anthony and I departed and shook hands with the understanding that the next time we would meet would be at the hospital for the surgery.

On April 4, I arrived at the hospital at 6 a.m. I waited in the waiting room for only a few minutes prior to them calling me back. The medical staff weighed me and took my temperature. I changed into the gown and waited for Anthony to finish his tests. In order for my surgery to begin, Anthony had to take a few tests to make sure his levels were satisfactory for the surgery. He came over to my bed and told me that his levels were good which meant the transplant was set to begin. Crystal, my father-in-law and my son were waiting with me. I remember being so calm and when I think about why I was so calm prior to my first surgery in my entire life was the fact that so many people had told me they would be praying for me and Anthony. My name was called and I said my good-byes to my family as I was wheeled away.

My next memory is of waking up in the recovery room. I heard the noises of the different machines and I also felt the pain on my left side but I want to stress the pain was not that great because of the pain medication. I felt tired but I was able to see Crystal and my son, Tony. Crystal told me that the medical staff had kept her updated and they told her that the surgery went well. When I got a chance, I spoke with the nurse in the recovery room. I asked him if he could check on the condition of Anthony Miller Sr.. He said he would and returned and said, ‘I spoke with the surgeons and they told me that as soon as the kidney was placed in Mr. Miller, it began functioning and he is now in ICU doing well’. I tell people that the feeling I got when I heard this will never be forgotten. I laid there a few minutes in silence as I thought about what I just heard. Anthony Miller Sr. was healed of kidney failure! God’s healing had come full circle. This was done in His time not in our time.

I was wheeled to my own room and was able to receive visits from my friends and family. Crystal came to the hospital every day and was the great supportive wife that she said she would be. My son, Tony, came twice and we had great conversations about how amazing it was to know that Anthony was doing great. I received a visit from Anthony’s wife, Mary. As I mentioned earlier Mary and Tony Jr. played an important part in my decision to donate. When I first started coming to the rec center I met Mary and found her to be a genuine person who was very nice. A short time later, I met Tony Jr. and found him to be a respectful, impressive and caring young man in his early twenties. Tony Jr. was easy going and worked with the young kids in such a positive way. He had offered his kidney to his father, but Anthony would not take it since there is a history of diabetes in the family. At first, I did not make the connection that Anthony Sr. and Mary were the parents of Tony Jr. but when I finally made the connection, it was no surprise because they all possess the same great qualities. Mary stopped by the room and said thank you and we had a discussion about Anthony and the importance of family. It was no surprise to see we had identical beliefs on the importance of family and being parents.

Anthony was in ICU for the first week and left the hospital 5 days after the surgery. He is off dialysis and recently was told that he does not have to see the kidney specialist for 1 entire year! I was discharged 3 days after the surgery and even though there was still some pain, I was leaving the hospital a stronger person spiritually. I am so thankful for my health, my family and friends. I was able to return to a normal exercise routine 23 days after the surgery. The journey has been as rewarding as one can imagine. There is no way that I would ever change my mind about what has happened. I can live with one kidney knowing that Anthony is living with one kidney. I could not live with two kidneys knowing that my friend was suffering without a kidney. Finally, I would like to share verses from the Bible that convinced me that God would take care of me, my family and Anthony during this entire process:

John 15:12-16

This is my commandment, That you love one another, as I have loved you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you.

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Dennis L. Otter

I dedicate my story to my family who continuously motivates me to be my best. I was blessed with great parents, great brothers, great in-laws, great friends but most of all my wife and two children. My wife was supportive from beginning to end and encourages me to follow God’s will. Anthony and Adrienne make me proud every day to be called, ‘Dad’. I also would dedicate this to Anthony Miller Sr. for being a great person and a good friend. To all I say ‘Thank you for making my life what it is”. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Dennis L. Otter