Chaplain donates a kidney to a dying refugee
BY JIM HOWE
It was a note in a church bulletin that led an Upstate chaplain to donate one of her kidneys to a Bhutanese refugee.
The Rev. Susan Joy Huizenga, the palliative care chaplain at Upstate since August 2018, was living in Michigan at the time. She was working as a chaplain at a VA hospital and attended a church where “I see this bulletin announcement that says a kidney is needed for a refugee, and I said, ‘What!? How audacious is that!?’”
She saw the ad again the following week, and by the third week, she started thinking that she might qualify as a donor. She met the basic medical requirements, had given a lot of blood over the years, and “felt this nudge that I ought to do something,” she said.
The ad had been placed for a gravely ill woman named Buddi Subba, whose kidneys began to fail while she was living in a refugee camp in Nepal. She was among tens of thousands of minority ethnic residents forced out of Bhutan.
The only donor
The United Nations sent Subba on an emergency basis to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she had a niece, and where she started what would be two years of kidney dialysis treatments. She also became a Christian and started attending the same church where Huizenga was teaching weekly classes in English as a second language.
Huizenga had heard about Subba’s enthusiastic church attendance, her desire to learn English and to read the Bible and how her disease had made her look much older than someone in her mid-40s.
As it turned out, Huizenga was also the only person who stepped up to be tested as a possible kidney donor.
She underwent a battery of tests and heard about the possible risks of surgery. She also felt comfortable with the surgeon, who had graduated the year after her at Calvin University in Grand Rapids.
“He really made me feel a lot better, and he was compassionate. When I went to see him, he said, ‘Thank you for giving the gift of life.’ I had a good feeling about him, and it made a big difference. He explained in great detail about what he would do and why,” Huizenga said.
“One of the things they later told me was, ‘How rare that you would be a match, out of the one person to get tested, one person was a match.’ If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. I guess I would say it’s not just about Buddi, it’s about all the people in her life who still have her in their life, and the effect is like throwing a pebble into a pond, and the waves, they keep going and they impact on others.”
“I don’t regret it for a second. I’m 56 now; I was 52 at the time. It should last her the rest of her life.”
One of the first things Huizenga did after the transplant operation was to go to Subba’s room and give her a hug.
“When I went to see her the day after surgery, her color was better, she was smiling, and she said, ‘You have given me life. Thank you. God bless you.’ She was so happy.” Subba’s brother, on Facebook from Nepal, also thanked Huizenga for saving his sister’s life, as did others.
The transplant surgery took place in September 2016 in Grand Rapids. Today, Subba and Huizenga are both in good health.
This article is from the winter 2020 issue of Upstate Health magazine.