I've experienced first-hand the love of a father for his child. I've even known some fathers who have laid down their lives for their children. In fact, I consider myself to be in that number. I can say without a doubt that my four children are my greatest assets. I call them my "monuments." They are by far my greatest earthly achievement. I watched as each one of them took their first breath and at that precise moment I was held captive by the powerful force called fatherhood. I pledged my allegiance to them as I cradled them in my arms for the very first time and gazed into their fresh faces. I would take whatever measures were necessary for each one of them to be safe and protected. A father's love was basic instinct for me, but what I wasn't prepared for was the day when the roles were reversed and my only son laid down his life for me. His sacrifice has given me the gift of life and has left indelible "footprints" in my soul forever.
In April of 2008, I was informed that my fifty-five-year-old kidneys were only functioning at nine percent. I was referred to a team of nephrologists at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After a thorough examination, I was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure. I was given two options. I could prepare for dialysis or I could bypass dialysis completely and begin the kidney transplant process. After discussing the pros and cons of each lifesaving procedure, the doctors felt I would have a better prognosis if I would avoid dialysis altogether and just proceed with a kidney transplant. I opted for an organ transplant and after a few days of intense testing, I was informed that my name was on the National Kidney Registry. The doctors warned me, however, that it may take up to four years, before a kidney from a cadaver would be available. I was running out of time and knew my diseased kidneys wouldn't last but a few more months. My only hope was a living donor.
My three brothers offered to give me one of their kidneys. Being full-blooded siblings, I was confident we would all be a match made in heaven, but after simple blood tests, we were devastated to learn that none of them were compatible with my rare blood type.
My four children were aware that my kidney's time clock was ticking. They called the Mayo Clinic and volunteered to be tested as soon as possible. I struggled with accepting one of my offspring's kidneys. The mental anguish and all the 'what ifs' were much worse than the kidney disease. I worried if the disease was hereditary. 'What if one of my children gave me one of their kidneys and then years down the road they faced kidney disease?' The doctors assured us that the living donor must endure and pass some stringent testing before they would even be accepted as an organ donor. His words gave us enough peace of mind to proceed.
It was twenty-seven-year-old John, who was chosen as our family's M.V.D. 'Most Valuable Donor.' The surgery date was scheduled on June 12th, 2008 at the MethodistHospital in Rochester. It was just three days before Father's Day.
The night before surgery, a flood of precious memories swept over me. Scalding tears stung my eyes as I took several sentimental journeys. The one memory that kept playing over and over in my mind's eye was the day John was born. It was a rainy day on October 27th, 1980, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We were only at the hospital a couple of hours when he announced his arrival. He had a head full of fine, brown hair and tipped the scales at a whopping eight pounds and ten ounces. As his mother and I examined every inch of his chubby frame, we were shocked to see he had a black eye. We teased that he would surely be a "prizefighter" when he grew up. Our words were prophetic. Thirteen days later, he was in a fight for his life. He woke up one morning with a high temperature and refused to nurse. We rushed him to the doctor and he was immediately admitted to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a deadly bacterial spinal meningitis and his pediatrician informed us that John's life was in danger. We watched as our little champion fought hard and defied death.
It was a full circle moment for me. 'What if John hadn't survived when he was that tiny baby?' I was still having some "what if" moments, but they were no longer filled with fear and negativity. 'What if John's life was spared years ago so he could help save mine now?' Suddenly I was convinced that my son donating one of his kidneys to me was part of his divine destiny. I believed that John, as a newborn, was given a second chance at life and because of the victory he won, he was now able to give me a second chance at life.
I gasped as hope swelled in my soul. "He fought for his life and won and now our little "prizefighter" is in the ring again fighting for my life."
I pulled a pen and tablet from my briefcase and began writing a note of gratitude to my son.
Life can take many twists and turns. Isn't it interesting that twenty-seven years ago your mother and I gave life to you? Now, God is using you to give life to me. Because of your unselfish gift, my life will be extended. I love you, John, and I will never forget your sacrifice. Thank you. Never forget that I will always have a part of you in me.
PS You are giving me quite a Father's Day gift. I wonder what you'll give me next year. (grin)
Just as I finished stuffing the letter in an envelope, I looked up and saw John walking toward me with a card in his hand.
"Dad, I want you to have your Father's Day card before surgery." he choked.
"I've got a note for you, too." I said as I handed him my letter.
"You read mine first, Dad."
"Okay." I replied.
You are the best dad a boy could have. You have always been there for me. Now it's my turn to be there for you. I know it is hard for you to accept this gift, but I would rather have one kidney and my dad still alive than have two kidneys and not have my dad here with me. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you.
I reached for my boy just as he was reaching for me. We embraced and wept together.
"Happy Father's Day, Dad." John sniffed.
Brushing the tears from my cheeks I replied. "It's your turn to read my letter now, son."
I watched as John devoured every word. Our deepening bond had been cemented by the difficult circumstances life had dealt us. And at that very moment, my prizefighting son, was and continues to be the finest man I know.
John's eyes glistened. Winking at me he joked. "That's the best "Dear John" letter I've ever read." We laughed together as he continued, "If it's alright with you, Dad, next year for Father's Day I think I'm just going to buy you a tie."
Dixie is a pastor's wife, ghostwriter, mother of four grown children, and grandmother of five "perfect" grandchildren. You can find out more about the ministry she and her husband are involved in at www.floydslighthouse.com. Guardian Angel Publishing has published 10 of Dixie's children's books.