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An extraordinary gift from a friend

Damascus pastor receives a friend's kidney at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital
by: Barbara Adams, Richard Stafford of Clackamas shares a moment with his wife, Marj, at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland four days after their good friend, Dwight Hires of La Center, Wash., donated Richard a kidney.

With 13 percent kidney function left, Dr. William Bennett said Richard Stafford was on his 'last tank of gas.' At this rate, he would soon need dialysis.

Richard, 60, is the worship pastor at Damascus Community Church. He and his wife, Marj, share a passion for music and their faith-two gifts that brought them together in the late 1960s as students at Multnomah Bible College in Portland.

Their college friend, Dwight Hires, 59, is the pastor at La Center Evangelical Free Church in La Center, Wash. He was in the Portland area one day and thought of his old friend, so he gave him a call. He knew about Richard's condition, but when Marj told him that it was to the point where he needed a kidney transplant or go on dialysis, Hires didn't hesitate-he told her, 'I can do that.'

'I would love for people to hear that donating a kidney is far easier than we understand,' Hires said. 'It is a way that you can give extravagantly, and it costs you hardly anything.'

Richard and Marj were moved by their friends offer, but didn't want to impose. It was Dwight who repeatedly called them about it.

'He wanted to do it,' Richard said. 'He kept calling me, 'Is this OK with you?' He became very aggressive.'

One reason: goodness, the direction of the Lord, said Richard. The other reason: Hires's desire to be a donor. Thirty-five years ago, he was put on the bone marrow transplant list when his sister was diagnosed with leukemia. Another family member was chosen as a better match, but it was something he passionately wanted to do.

'Richard is very thoughtful of other people,' Hires said. 'He will work his fingers to the bone as opposed to asking somebody else to help him. He is very careful not to impose on anybody. When I knew that he needed a kidney I had to re-offer three times before they sent me the information, they were so worried that they may have imposed on me. They would not presume upon anybody-that shows the kindness that both Rich and Marj have.'

Bennett, who is a nephrologist (kidney specialist) and medical director of transplant services at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, said that it is increasingly common for friends to offer to donate, but many do not qualify. 'Richard's situation is special because a donor was found prior to him requiring dialysis,' he said, adding that finding a transplant prior to needing dialysis gives the best long term result.

A kidney donor was sought for two years, and no one in Richard's family was a good match. A donor must have a compatible blood type, be medically acceptable and want to do it voluntarily, said Bennett. 'The latter is insured by having a separate donor nurse advocate.

'If someone qualifies as a donor, medically the risks are minimal,' he said. 'A donor at a given age has a greater life expectancy than a person of the same age who does not donate because they know all systems are normal-no high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, diabetes.'

Hires was released from the hospital two days after the operation, which was on Monday, Jan. 14. Richard's insurance paid all of Hires's medical expenses, and will cover future costs, if any, that are a result of the donation.

'Rich couldn't ask somebody to give him a kidney-you can't ask for that,' Hires said. 'But it's really not a gift unless it's given freely. All I've done is follow the example that Jesus set in sacrificing for others. This is small potatoes stuff.'

By donating one of his kidneys, Hires said his kidney function dropped to 50 percent, but his remaining kidney will grow large enough that within two years he'll have 60 to 75 percent function.

One week after the operation, Dwight feels 'fantastic. It's nowhere near the operation they say it is. I've also had so many people praying for me-I have to give God credit for healing me this way.'

Approximately 90 kidney transplants are performed at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital each year. 'Legacy transplant was the first program in the region to offer laparoscopic donor operations (quick recovery),' Bennett said, 'and provide individualized care by a dedicated team of professionals from all related disciplines-doctors, nurses, financial people, dieticians, pharmacy and social work.'

As Richard woke up after the surgery, he saw Hires in the hallway on his recovery bed. 'He said, 'I love you, man.' And I said, 'Thanks again, Dwight,'' Richard said. Two days later he could tell he was feeling much better than he had in a long time.

Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital transplant program specializes in kidney transplants. For more information about their program, call 503-413-6555.