CHICAGO, IL (May 5, 2016) — It has been five years since Debbie Griffith Samuels, director of mission and outreach for the Central Conference, donated one of her kidneys to superintendent Jerome Nelson, but until a photo shoot for the May/June issue of the Companion, the two had never had a conversation about the surgery that saved his life.
“It’s just never comes up,” Jerome said.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t grateful. “I am so blessed. I still can’t believe she did it,” he said.
It almost didn’t happen.
Jerome had one cancerous kidney removed in 2009. The next year, doctors discovered that the disease had attacked the other one.
But he was still undergoing drug treatments after the first kidney surgery, so no immediate operation could be scheduled. By the time he finished the treatments, his health had failed considerably and he was gaunt.
The remaining kidney was operating at only 7 percent. If he didn’t get a transplant soon, he was told, he would die.
Jerome told his staff what was happening and asked them to pray.
That is what Debbie did when she went home and told her husband, Covenant pastor Wiley Samuels. “Jerome is my neighbor and when he was faced with a terrible health condition, we prayed and decided that we would both go and get tested to see if one of us were eligible to donate a kidney. I have always made sure my driver’s license reflected that I was a donor. However, never did I think I would be a living donor,” she says.
The odds of getting a kidney match so quickly were an extreme long shot. Most people have to wait at least a year before a living donor is found. The results amazed everyone. The surgery was scheduled.
Then one of the doctors called several days later to tell Jerome they had to cancel it.
His previous bouts with cancer—he also was treated for colon cancer in 2008—ruled him out as a candidate because his body almost certainly would reject the donated kidney. It would be at least three years before he was eligible for a transplant.
The news was devastating. “I couldn’t believe what they were telling me,” Jerome said. Doctors told him he needed to start dialysis immediately.
He declined. “I would have had to do dialysis four hours a day for six days a week,” Jerome explained. “That’s not a quality of life. I couldn’t have worked.”
But he contacted his fellow superintendents to ask them to pray. The word spread, and soon friends around the world were praying for him.
A few days later, he received another call. This time a physician told him they would operate after all, despite the risks.
“They couldn’t say why they changed their mind, but they had met and decided they should go ahead with it,” Jerome said. The operation took place two days later.
Debbie has been characteristically humble about her decision. “The positive quality of life Jerome now experiences with Joanne and his family has nothing to do with me,” she said. “I was just a vessel used for God’s glory. That is what gives me joy.”
Jerome conceded that he hadn’t been sure how Wiley would react to the idea of her giving him her kidney. He didn’t need to worry.
Not only did Wiley fully support his wife’s decision, but he has called Jerome at 5 a.m. every Wednesday morning since then to pray for him.
“It’s amazing,” Jerome said.