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Pastor leads kidney donation drive

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If a family member needed a kidney to avoid dying, would you donate one of yours? Most would likely say yes.

What about a stranger? Would you donate a kidney to save the life of someone you don't know?

That's what Carol Penner did -- and she hopes more Canadians will do the same.

Penner, pastor of Edmonton's Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church, was moved to donate a kidney after her husband lost one of his to cancer in 2008.

"I didn't realize how easy it is to live on one kidney," says the 53 year-old. "There was no change in his life."

After thinking about it for a couple of years, in 2011 she offered to donate a kidney as an undesignated donor -- her kidney would go to whomever needed it most. What followed was a year of medical appointments, tests and questionnaires. Once accepted, Penner -- then the pastor of First Mennonite Church in Vineland, Ont. -- was put on the list to donate when needed.

In October 2012, she received the call and had surgery to remove one of her kidneys. Soon after, someone living somewhere in Canada received her gift of life.

"It wasn't a huge operation," she says of the surgery. "There were a couple of weeks of recovery. I received great care."

Why did she do it?

"People across Canada are dying of kidney disease," she says. "If I could save someone's life, why not do that?"

Her faith also played an important role.

"Our body is the biggest gift God has given us, especially if we've been given good health," she says. "We can share it with someone who needs to get healthy."

She also thought of the words of Jesus, who instructed his followers to "love your neighbour as yourself."

"If I needed a kidney, and there was no family match, I would want someone to donate one to me," she says, noting if that was the case, she could also do it for someone else.

Looking back, Penner says donating a kidney was "one of the most joyful things I have done in my life."

Now she is on a quest to encourage more people to help save the lives of the more than 3,000 Canadians who are on waiting lists for a kidney transplant -- 262 of whom are in Manitoba.

"Many of these people will die while on the waiting list," she says. "These are needless deaths -- there are millions of healthy kidneys in Canada."

She wants to start with her own faith group.

"As Mennonites, we could lead the way," she says of the 200,000 or so Mennonites in Canada. If just a fraction of that number donated a kidney, "we could wipe out the waiting list in a year."

She acknowledges it won't be easy; giving a kidney is quite a bit different than giving money to feed people who are hungry, poor or sick in another part of the world.

But she thinks churches -- and other faith groups -- should still try.

"We are constantly encouraged to give money to help others without needing to know who they are," she says. "Why not do the same with a kidney?"

Plus, she adds, "it's a solvable problem. It's not as huge as world hunger or poverty."

One thing all faith groups share in common is a belief in compassion and charity -- helping people in need. Usually this takes the form of donations of money, time or expertise. Could it be extended to include donating kidneys? Or making sure members sign organ donation cards?

Thursday, March 13 is World Kidney Day, a day for raising awareness about kidney disease. Maybe faith groups could add it to the list of special days they mark, inviting members to think about how they could help someone facing death due to the disease.

After all, as Penner says, "the rewards are huge -- you can save someone's life."

Penner has a blog about her experience of donating a kidney and is happy to correspond with people who are interested in doing the same thing. Visit it at http://anundesignateddonor.blogspot.ca.

Jdl562000@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 D12

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