Today is my sister’s 27th birthday. Birthday 2.0.
I’m not sure why I’m feeling compelled to make a bigger deal about this birthday 2.0, more than any of the others. Perhaps it’s because the story has expanded to include others… including very young Evan Junior [EJ] and Austin. 5 weeks today at 37 weeks gestation; they were born 8 weeks early. Another transplant story… Nicole is a transplant recipient, also.
A clarifying disclosure: Donna isn’t my ‘real’ sister; I ‘adopted’ her when I was around 29 or 30. I lettered an Adoption Certificate, stamped it with my Building Designer stamp, and had it witnessed by my wife and the fingerprints of our new daughter. I’d always wanted a sister; Donna needed a brother—many of her family members had died, like clockwork, at 2-year intervals; including her brother. Her sister had just been diagnosed with cancer.
That was in the early ’80s; the next part of the story begins late in 1987, when Donna was diagnosed with liver cancer. Self-employed, widowed, no medical insurance, nothing in the bank; and Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas wanted a check for $180,000 before they would let her enter the hospital for a liver transplant. What’s a mother to do? She lets her friends take over.
We started a fund-raising campaign called, Save My Mom, and put donation containers on the counters of businesses all over Portland. My 4-year old son, Rob, made the first donation—he emptied out his life savings–his piggy bank. There was a lot of money in it [for a 4-year old].
Not much happened until we asked our church to get involved. Our Pastor, Dale Galloway, was compassionate, but didn’t want his church to be the place where people needing transplants came, to raise money. One of the Elders, Tom Peterson [the furniture guy], felt that Dale needed to reconsider; he was seconded by Representative Drew Davis. We held a press conference; maybe 5 people showed.
At the same time, another group was asking the State of Oregon to fund the transplant of another mom; we distanced ourselves from that group—Donna did not believe it was the State’s responsibility to fund her transplant. Nonetheless Dale Galloway, Donna’s 14 year old son Evan and I went down to the State Legislature to add information about what happens when the uninsured have to deal with life-threatening diseases like liver cancer. Evan had the last words; he said, “I just want you to save my Mom,” and a tear rolled down his cheek.
A segue about miracles:
Do I believe in miracles? Yes, a broken ceramic refrigerator magnet hangs over my desk—”I don’t believe in miracles; I rely on them.” The fact that the magnet is broken is significant for me. So am I.
A friend of mine has a problem with believing in a God who ‘plays favorites’ with his Creation—bringing good to some, and really bad stuff to others. I’d have to agree. This isn’t my understanding of miracles.
I believe in an infinite and eternal Creator of the entire Universe, who entered time and space on earth, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. This is, in some ways, like lifting up a rock, looking at the little squiggly things down there, and deciding that I am going to become like one of those little squiggly things, so that I can explain how the Universe works. To the Creator, the Universe is, in some way, small. When I design a building, and watch it being built, the building is ‘small’ in one sense. I know every nail, practically, in the house we live in. I designed it for my parents and then built it. It’s a large house compared to my size; but I know everything about it; including all of its problems. I, being human, and freshly out of Architecture school, didn’t know much about building houses. I’m the squiggly thing under the rock.
Have I witnessed miracles? Probably. There are several incidents in my life where the outcome defied logic. Do I believe in ‘parking space angels’? Not really, but I remember to thank the Creator every time a parking space opens up when I’m running late.
I believe that the Creator has a Purpose; and that my life is part of that purpose. Do I know what that purpose is? Nope; I’m not omniscient—I don’t know my future. The Creator is infinite; ‘infinite’ doesn’t mean ‘really big,’ it means that size is irrelevant. I think there are times when the Creator’s purpose and my desires overlap. I believe there are occasions when I am called to witness something that can’t be understood by human logic.
Back to Donna:
The day after our trip to the State Legislature, I received a call from Michael Specter of the Washington Post. He ‘happened’ to be in Salem, Oregon the day that we were there, and wanted to learn more about Donna’s story. I also received a call from CNN; their camera person ‘happened’ to be in Salem on the day we were there. They wanted to hear more about Donna. Then things started to happen:
Dale was big on dramatics.
The story is really long; I won’t go into all of the details.
The short version is that money started coming in from as far away as Belgium. The wife of the Governor of Colorado wrote a column in the Denver Post. There were people at church that counted money all day long—ones, fives, tens, twenties. Checks. It was amazing to watch. I did some interviews on local TV.
Shortly before we were ready to leave for Baylor University Hospital, I received a call from a hospital in San Francisco; they offered to do Donna’s transplant for free. The doc that headed up their brand-new transplant program had seen the CNN coverage while on vacation in Hawaii [who watches CNN while vacationing in Hawaii?]. I told the CNN people that we were already committed to Baylor; but there was this other woman who needed a transplant, that the State of Oregon wouldn’t pay for…
Do I believe in the miraculous? Yes. Do I believe that the Creator will create a miracle whenever we desire one? Nope. They happen for a Larger purpose that I can’t understand. I am finite and time-bound.
Has Donna done something Large with her life? Not in terms that I understand. She’s a fairly ordinary, miraculous, Christian woman who believes in the power of prayer. She’s a cancer survivor; her anti-rejection medication caused cancer twenty plus years after her transplant. Breast cancer came after that…
Save My Mom happened because Donna wanted Evan to have a Mom.
Evan married a woman who needed a kidney transplant.
Nicole received a transplant, thanks to her brother, James.
Nicole has given birth to spontaneous twins, who had to be delivered early, due to her diminished kidney production. They are hard at work, learning to breathe and ingest food from bottles, and stiffening their bones–they aren’t quite ‘fully baked’ yet.
Donna considers EJ and Austin to be miracles.
Works for me.