Nineteen people a day die waiting for an organ transplant. Carol Patzia Rewers ’92 could have been one of them; she went on the national kidney transplant list in 2004 suffering from a congenital disease exacerbated by pregnancy. Facing a wait of seven to nine years, she started seeking someone with the same blood type willing to donate a kidney. One of her friends from graduate school got tested and turned out to be a match. Plans proceeded for the transplant until the donor, who had small children, backed out. Carol, the mother of a 7-year- old girl, understood the decision but still despaired.
Meanwhile, a fellow parishioner at Pasadena Mennonite Church decided God was calling him to give a kidney to Carol. Without telling her, he went to his doctor and discovered he was a match. He was then able to step forward and take the place of the original donor. The fact that he and Carol live near each other made everything easier. Doctors removed his kidney laproscopically, and he went home the next day. Carol stayed in the hospital longer. “At first I felt like a Mack truck hit me,” she says. “But I recovered quickly, and I’ve had no rejection problems. After being sick for so long, it’s great to be healthy. I’d forgotten what it felt like.”
The whole church got involved in the transplant. “They fed us, cared for us, prayed for us and reached out to both families,” Carol says. “The donor has two children, and our families have become close. It was an amazing experience for everyone.”
Carol majored in sociology and teaches special education at an elementary school in Covina, Calif. Her students sent her letters when she had the transplant, and teachers provided meals for the family. “The idea that someone from my church would donate a kidney to me was a life- changing event for my students,” she says. “It was a humbling experience to receive so much support from friends, colleagues and my church.”
Carol campaigns passionately for organ donation. “My experience was so easy, but I’ve met many people who suffered a long time,” she says. “I was given this amazing free pass, so I want to tell others about organ and tissue transplants and encourage them to become donors. People can now register online through a non-profit organization, Donate Life America (www.donatelife.net).”
Carol’s life with her husband, Mike, a counselor in private practice, and their 10-year-old daughter has become blessedly normal, full of the usual family activities and routines. “It’s a miracle,” she says. Three years after the transplant, Carol competed in the 2008 National Transplant Olympics, which the National Kidney Foundation organizes for people with any life-saving organ. The former Westmont volleyball player won gold medals in volleyball and badminton with the Southern California team. “It was like a family reunion, meeting people from all over the country,” she says. “This amazing and beautiful celebration of life also honored the families of deceased donors.”
Carol knows she can never repay the donor who gave her a kidney, but she presented him with one of her gold medals when she returned from the olympics. “He told me that was the best thank-you he has received,” she says. “He’s happy I’m using the kidney well.”