always thought I was in reasonably good health; maybe a little overweight, but not enough to be terribly concerned. That changed almost 10 years ago, when I received notice from the Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) that the renewal application for my pilot’s medical certificate was being denied because of “elevated blood pressure.” So I made an appointment with my primary care physician for a full physical exam.
The report wasn’t very encouraging. My blood pressure was 200/100, prompting further tests. The results of those tests were seriously discouraging. Not only was my blood pressure high, but my creatinine level was +10, and my kidney function was at 24 percent. I was in end-stage renal failure.
Looking back, I was more concerned with having my condition reevaluated by the FAA and getting my medical certificate renewed than I was about renal failure. After more than two years of unsuccessful communication with the FAA, I finally gave up.
The Ordeal (If You Call It That)
In the meantime, I registered with a nephrologist in Salisbury, Maryland, one of the finest on the East Coast. He put me on a strict regimen of medication and exercise.
Less than a year later one of my fellow pastors, Tom Leblanc, suggested I look into the lifestyle program at Wildwood, Georgia. A couple months later my wife, Olga, and I drove down, and we both registered for the 17-day program.
Wow, I thought. This has to be it! Good food (it took me a while to get used to baked oatmeal), fresh air, exercise, sauna, hot/cold showers, deep massage. This has to be the ticket!
After the first week, when confronted with the medical report, I was crushed. Although my blood pressure was within reasonable limits, my creatinine and kidney function numbers were unchanged. My doctor told me treatments wouldn’t “fix” the problem, only slow the decline.
I’ll always be grateful to the staff at Wildwood for their care and concern, because it was almost four years before my kidney function declined to the “magic” number 10 percent and I was scheduled for dialysis.
I was on the “machine” the first week of January 2004. My schedule was three days a week—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—early morning for four hours and 43 minutes. Some had warned me that dialysis would be a problem, but I didn’t find it to be so. After being hooked up I just settled into my chair with my Bible and read and napped, then read some more. I became good friends with several of the technicians, giving copies of The Desire of Ages to two of them. In June I officiated in the marriage of one of the techs and her boyfriend.
The Next Step
After being scheduled for dialysis, Olga and I traveled to the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, where we met with the transplant team and filled out the necessary paperwork to be placed on a kidney transplant list. We were informed of all the requirements and the need of being immediately available if a match was found.
In May 2004 I received a letter from my sister, Koreen, in Chicago. She wrote: “When Barry and I visited you at Christmas (2003), Olga talked about you going on dialysis in January and the possibilities and difficulties of getting a donor. I knew immediately that I would have to offer to be a donor; I simply had to do it, although it scared the life out of me. . . . I actually had a couple friends who tried to talk me out of it. I prayed a lot about it. I continually asked God that everything, all the tests and results, would go smoothly as a ‘sign’ that this is what I should do. Ironically, things did not go smoothly, because I had to take and retake tests. What should have been a one- or two-monthlong process . . . stretched into over three months. Looking back, I wonder if He made things difficult so that my attention was focused on that, and I didn’t have a chance to be nervous.”
All the arrangements were made, and on Sunday, October 24, Olga and I, and Koreen and Barry, met at the apartment the University of Maryland Hospital provided for us during our time there. All week was taken up meeting with the physicians, going over the process, etc. My doctor even had me remove my shirt so he could draw an arc with a black marker just where he would make the incision. My friend, Tom LeBlanc, spent most of that day with us, encouraging us.
At 6:00 a.m., Thursday, October 28, 2004, Pastor Tom walked Koreen down the hall to surgery and had prayer with her. Thirty minutes later he made the same trip with Olga and me. When I awoke sometime later, Olga and our son, Michael, were by my bed in the recovery room. The next day Koreen surprised me by walking into my room, supported by Barry, who held her arm.
Koreen was released on Saturday and I was released on Sunday. The next Friday, after a few days of recuperation and follow-up appointments, just as we were about to leave for home, the phone rang. It was the hospital; there was a rejection problem; they wanted me back right away. I stayed in the hospital over the weekend and was finally released on Monday afternoon.
Fast-forward to September 2005: I had received advertising for Shawn Boonstra’s evangelism series, “The Appearing.” The Lord impressed me that Koreen and Barry needed to see this program. She had wandered away from the church as an 18-year-old, had married Barry some years later, and was not attending church.
I called It Is Written and found out where in Chicago the downlink was going to be. The Seventh-day Adventist church in Elgin, just 20 minutes from Koreen’s home, was showing the program. I called the Elgin church and registered Mr.& Mrs. Barry Boettcher, of St. Charles, Illinois. Then I called Koreen, and told her they had to go because they were already registered.
Because of their work schedules, Barry and Koreen could attend only two or three of the showings. But the elders and members of the Elgin church encouraged Barry and Koreen to take Bible studies, which they finished; then they took, and finished, more Bible studies.
In May 2006 Barry and Koreen visited us again in Delaware. During the visit Barry told me how the Holy Spirit had been working in his life. He was enjoying the studies, and was looking forward to taking more.
A few months later I got a call from Koreen, asking if we could come out to Elgin and baptize her and Barry. Wild horses couldn’t keep us away!
We left for Elgin September 28, just one year and 11 months after our transplant experience. On Sabbath, September 30, Koreen and Barry were baptized. My few remarks were, “She gave me the gift of life; God gave her eternal life.”
If you ever visit Baltimore, Maryland, stop by the University of Maryland Hospital. On the third floor, the Transplant Division, just to the left of the elevators is a plaque entitled “The Wall of Honor.” In the fourth column, about halfway down, you’ll see the name “Koreen Boettcher.” She gave me the gift of life.
Doug Rennewanz has been a pastor in the Chesapeake Conference for more than 30 years. This article was published May 13, 2010.