Going beyond and giving life to another

Sr. Lynn Patrice Lavin, OSF, needed a kidney and Sr. Deborah Krist, OSF, gave her one.  Sounds so simple, yet so incredible.  These are two sisters—not by blood but by vocation. There was no telling that they would be a match at all but Sr. Debbie just knew she would be a good fit.  “It was an act of God for sure,” Debbie said “It has been an amazing journey which I believe, through the grace of God, has changed both our lives!”

The Diagnosis

Sr. Lynn was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) in December 2012.  PKD is a genetic disease that causes uncontrolled growth of cysts in the kidney eventually leading to kidney failure. The number of cysts can range from just a few to many.  The disease affects more than 600,000 Americans and 12.4 million people worldwide.  After the diagnosis, Sr. Lynn was routinely tested and experienced gradual reduction in kidney function.  However, by March 2019, her nephrologist, Dr. Matthew Denker, advised Lynn that she was approaching stage five renal failure and needed to seriously consider either dialysis or kidney transplant.  Without either, she would not live long.  After extensive testing, Lynn discovered that she was a candidate for a transplant but, without a living donor, it could take anywhere from three to seven years to get a kidney—time that Sr. Lynn just didn’t have.

Asking for Help

“Asking for help from others is not an easy thing for me,” Sr. Lynn admits.  “Needless to say, this reality was very overwhelming and I needed to take in the hard reality of this diagnosis.”  Already 2019 had been unfolding as a very challenging year for her. She was recovering from a full hysterectomy due to uterine cancer as well as dealing with the death of her sister.  “Initially, I could hardly talk about it,” Lynn said. “Yet I needed to reach out to my family, my friends, and my sisters for both emotional and prayerful support.  I definitely struggled with asking anyone to give me his or her kidney!  Why would they do that?”  Sr. Lynn decided to seek out professional assistance to help her navigate through her emotions and the decisions that she needed to make.  Being a professional therapist herself, she knew the value of talking things through with an outside individual who could listen objectively and without judgment.  It was through this step that she was finally able to ask for the help she so desperately needed.

The Humbling Reality of Sisterhood

“From the time Lynn shared with me that her kidney disease had worsened and that she was in need of a new kidney, I wanted to give her this gift,” Sr. Debbie recalled. “She had been a mentor and a dear friend of mine pretty much since I entered the community.  I felt like it would be a true blessing for me to be there for her in this capacity.”

Sr. Debbie was not alone in feeling called to help. “I was so humbled by the support from my family, some of whom offered to be tested as donors, but also by the number of sisters who offered me one of their kidneys,” Sr. Lynn said. “Even sisters who obviously were not well enough.”  However, Sr. Debbie was the first person to fill out the live donor form for the Transplant Institute.  Penn Transplant’s process is that they only test one donor at a time because the testing is extensive.  As Debbie progressed through the testing, Sr. Lynn was told by the transplant coordinator that “it looked promising.”  “I wanted to believe that but I also didn’t want to get my hopes up because of the rarity of a match from a nonfamily member or from the first person tested,” Sr. Lynn recalled. “So when the call came in, I was speechless!  I had to get myself together before calling Debbie to tell her the news.”

From a Match to Surgery

Only a few short months later—after extensive work-ups for both sisters—the time for surgery had come. “I filled out the form in mid-July and matched on October 2.  Surgery was on October 30.”  Both sisters were so very grateful for the quality of care they received at Penn.  “We are extremely blessed to have an institution of this caliber to help us,” Sr. Lynn explained. “I didn’t have one bad experience.  Penn is very Franciscan in nature. They really respect the dignity of every person and are very compassionate. And not only that. But they send you home to heal and recover with a canvas bag with everything you could ever possibly need. They thought of everything.”

Prognosis – The Future is Bright

So what’s the prognosis?  Both sisters are healing nicely. There are provisions, of course, but overall the prognosis appears excellent.  Sr. Debbie, now with only one kidney, has to watch taking over-the-counter meds and vitamins, has some dietary restrictions, and must keep hydrated.  For Sr. Lynn who now carries three kidneys (one good and two failing), the recovery road is progressing well.  She started out on several medications to fight off rejection and infection. As these medications are gradually being reduced she gets stronger every day.

Returning to work and getting back into a normal routine, both sisters also say that they now have a new appreciation for life.  “What really matters becomes more focused,” said Sr. Lynn. “I am definitely so much more grounded in my trust in how God provides for us! There is a blessing that comes with being vulnerable. We are living in a world of exchange and it is not always easy to receive, but I have been given an incredible gift.”  Sr. Debbie agreed, “I feel more grounded and grateful for the precious gift of life and for the blessing of sharing life through this donation.”  The overwhelming response of support and love from the other sisters in the congregation as well as from family and friends is what carried these sisters through this difficult time. “It has been an amazing journey, “said Debbie. “I believe that through the grace of God, this has changed both our lives.”

Florence Smith

Organ donation saves lives!  Signing up on your state registry means that someday you could save lives as a donor—by leaving behind the gift of life. When you register, most states let you choose what organs and tissues you want to donate, and you can update your status at any time. Click here to learn more!