By Chris Schutz, Special Contributor
It all started when Steve Fields of Ponca City, Okla., and his wife, Jennifer, were watching a football game on TV in February 2012. Three months later, Mr. Fields was in Pennsylvania donating a kidney to a man he had just met.
The link between the two events was a televised plea by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for viewers to consider becoming kidney donors. A Patriots coach was in urgent need of a kidney transplant.
Something about live donation clicked for Mr. Fields, 39, a member of Ponca City First United Methodist Church. He and Jennifer looked up the website matchingdonors.com, which puts potential donors and recipients in contact with each other.
The site asked for biographical information, including blood type, age, and habits such as smoking. In return they got a couple of bios from potential recipients, including Jerry Ivory, 65, of Johnstown, Pa.
“He was definitely in need of a kidney. He didn’t have any kidneys,” Mr. Fields said.
Mr. Ivory’s diseased kidneys had been removed, and he was being kept alive through dialysis.
The two men met by telephone and discovered “little things that kind of matched up,” Mr. Fields said. “We talked for hours and hours.”
Mr. Ivory has a granddaughter named Emily; Mr. Fields has a daughter named Emily. Both families have wiener dogs.
More importantly, they had the same blood type: O-positive. Medical tests followed.
Mr. Fields was determined: “Even if I didn’t donate to [Ivory], I was going to donate to somebody.” He prayed and talked over his plans with his pastor, the Rev. Mike Smith.
“My concern [was] making sure that he was really confident and assured that he wanted to do this,” Mr. Smith said. “You just don’t volunteer a body part for anyone out there.”
He said Mr. Fields was donating “for all the right reasons.”
In the midst of the 2013 Lenten season, Mr. Smith said he sees parallels between Jesus giving His life for us, and Mr. Fields giving up an organ to help another person live.
“I knew God was with me through this whole thing,” Mr. Fields said.
Members of the Ponca City congregation collected money to help meet Mr. Fields’ personal expenses, which included several trips to Pittsburgh, Pa., for testing and for the surgery May 21, 2012, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The hospital paid for Mr. Fields’ testing, hospital stay and procedures.
Mr. Fields also got some help with transportation costs from church member Kevin Fortenberry, who donated airline miles he had accumulated on business trips. Other free travel was through the Angel Flights ministry.
While arranging time off from his job as a postal carrier, Mr. Fields found out two weeks of paid leave were available to him because he was donating an organ.
Early on the day of surgery, Mr. Fields met the Ivory family: Jerry, wife Carole, two daughters, and two sons-in-law.
During the tearful encounter, Mr. Ivory’s daughters told Mr. Fields that, “in their words, I was saving their dad’s life,” he recalled.
After the surgery, Mr. Fields was cautioned he would probably need four to six weeks to recover. At first, he had to handle mail in “little bitty trays.” He is grateful to other postal carriers, who delivered heavier parcels to customers on his route. “They were really good to me.”
Today Mr. Fields feels fully recovered. He has added part-time work at a fast-food restaurant to his day.
“The only way I could even tell that I had [the surgery] was the scar,” he said.
Mr. Fields and Mr. Ivory, who talked so easily during that first telephone call, have developed a close relationship. Mr. Fields said there is also a bond with Mr. Ivory’s wife and daughters.
“I gave up a kidney, but I gained so much more,” he said.
For Mr. Ivory, the transplant has been life-changing.
Due to polycystic kidney disease, Mr. Ivory had to quit his job as a draftsman five years ago and go on dialysis. His kidneys were removed because they had become so enlarged that he had trouble breathing. He had been sick for so many years that “I forgot what it was like to be healthy,” he said.
When he woke up with his new kidney, “I knew I was instantly better.”
Now, Mr. Ivory said, “I am feeling absolutely fantastic.”
As a plus, he and Mr. Fields have bonded “like father and son,” Mr. Ivory said. “God’s hands are all over this.”
For information on live kidney donation, visit www.matchingdonors.com/.
Mr. Schutz is a freelance writer based in Moore, Okla.