Phil Palmquist ’76 was a hero to his sister Carol MacNeill during their childhood in Delano, Calif. The oldest of five children, he looked out for his baby sister, the youngest in the family. “We were close,” he says. “When I came home from Westmont, she jumped into my arms like a koala bear.”
“As I grew up, Phil was always my hero,” Carol says. “I was more than happy to see him — when he wasn’t affectionately thumping me on the head.”
Time has reversed these roles. Four years ago, Carol gave Phil one of her kidneys, saving his life. “Now she’s my hero,” he says.
In 1994, Phil learned he had polycystic kidney disease and a life expectancy of 56 years. When Carol heard the bad news, she said, “Don’t worry, Phil. God has told me that when you need a kidney, I’ll be your perfect match.” Extensive testing took more than 100 vials of Carol’s blood and proved her correct: She matched her brother 100 percent. She persevered through this process despite a fear of needles. “I passed out getting my ears pierced,” she says. “It was really hard.”
Carol’s husband and three sons worried about the risks of surgery and long-term effects of donating a kidney. She told them, “If I die, it will be OK because God will take care of you. When God gives us something to do we have to do it. It wasn’t common then to have a living kidney donor; the Lord put that in my heart, and I had an overwhelming peace.”
Meetings with psychologists and social workers were required. “I had to be interviewed again and again.” Carol says. “I just kept saying, “You don’t understand. When God gives you something to do, you have to do it. Let’s be truthful. The journey God puts us on isn’t easy. But we have to go. I had to upgrade my will and write letters to my children in case I died. But I had peace.”
Phil reached the point where he needed a transplant in 2007, and Carol stuck to her decision. “My husband was by my side through all of it,” she says. The morning of the surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the siblings and their spouses prayed with several nurses. “We all felt such incredible peace and faith,” Phil and Carol recall. “We were laughing. It wasn’t a scary time.”
Four years later, both Phil and Carol are healthy. Carol participates in a nationwide study of living donors, and her vital signs are better than normal.
Despite their closeness, the brother and sister attended rival colleges. Phil earned a degree in economics and business at Westmont and his wife, Robyn Ragan Palmquist ’78, majored in fine arts. Phil is a CPA in Santa Barbara and a partner in Hocking Denton Palmquist. Carol graduated from Fresno Pacific, where she met her husband, Steve, and they live in Alameda, Calif. Phil has two daughters; Carol has three sons. The youngest children in these families attend their parents’ alma mater.
During halftime of a Westmont-Fresno Pacific men’s basketball game Feb. 22, 2011, announcer John Martony from 1290 AM interviewed Phil and Carol, and they told their inspiring story to a live radio audience.
“God gave me the faith and courage to endure knowing my sister was there for me.” Phil says. “I didn’t have as much faith as she did.”
“At first Phil said he couldn’t let me be his donor,” Carol says. “But we have to be willing to accept what God has led someone else to do for us — and what he puts in our life to do for someone else.”