This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

A gift that saved a life

More than 3,000 Canadians are waiting for a kidney transplant. Many will die while on the waiting list.


Carol Penner thinks that’s wrong. So wrong, she donated a kidney herself to help someone who needed the life-saving procedure.

“These are needless deaths,” she says of those who will die before receiving help. “There are millions of healthy kidneys in Canada.”

Penner, pastor of Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church in Edmonton, Alta., was moved to donate one of her kidneys 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.

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 whoever 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 a kidney when the need arose.

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

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 their neighbors as themselves.

“If I needed a kidney, and there was no family match, I would want someone to donate one to me,” she says.

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 those awaiting a new kidney — starting with Mennonites in Canada.

“As Mennonites, we could lead the way,” she says of the 200,000 or so Canadian Mennonites. 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. But “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?”

After all, Penner says, “the rewards are huge. You can save someone’s life.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 99,000 Americans are awaiting a kidney transplant.

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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