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Touched by a determined Angel

Donating a kidney was an easy decision for Cindy Klein
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Cindy Klein, left, and Ann Pritchard had a joyous and tearful first meeting. Their relationship now includes Ann baking cookies for Cindy’s three children.

If you call Cindy Klein a saint, she shakes her head 'No.'

If you call her an angel, she says, 'No one who really knows me thinks that I'm an angel.'

But one compliment Klein does not try to elude is 'decisive.' Because from the moment she found out that a sister member of Lake Grove Presbyterian Church needed to have a kidney donated, Klein was determined she was going to give it.

'I was confident from the second I decided to do it,' Klein said. 'I wasn't scared. I knew it was the right thing to do. Anyone who knows me is not surprised that I would do this.'

Ann Pritchard, the recipient of Klein's kidney, is much more inclined to provide superlatives when describing her benefactor's act of mercy.

'Cindy is one of the most caring, most loving persons that I have ever known,' said Pritchard. 'That someone who has three children and a busy life would give up a kidney to someone she didn't even know, it's just so amazing.'

It's true, but Pritchard and Klein didn't even know each other when this saga began, even though both were long-time members of Lake Grove Presbyterian. When there are 1,600 members of a church, that is not unusual.

'Because of my kids we go to the 9:30 service,' Klein said. 'Ann goes to the 11 a.m. service.'

Yet, because her kidneys were starting to perform so badly due to Glomerulonephritis - an inflammation to the kidneys - that she was at the point of needing dialysis, Pritchard felt she should try going to her church for assistance.

'My kidneys were close to failing,' Pritchard said. 'The toxins were building up and they couldn't be flushed out. I was diagnosed with this condition in 1994, then I hit a plateau. But eventually my kidneys got worse and worse and worse.'

Finally, Pritchard had herself placed on the Oregon Transplant List last September - after enduring some of the most stringent tests imaginable.

'The tests were an enormous undertaking,' Pritchard said. 'They were just horrendous; blood tests constantly, colonoscopies, immunizations, enzyme shots.'

Pritchard might have been expected to have an even more difficult time finding a donor. But it didn't turn out that way at all.

'My neighbor brought over a newsletter from her synagogue, and on the front was a photo of two men in a hospital,' Pritchard said. 'One had just donated a kidney to the other.

'That set my mind to thinking. Since I belong to a very devout church, one that is very loving and caring, I thought someone there might help me.

'An item was placed in our church newsletter. Just a few lines saying that one of the church members needed a kidney. Our (associate) pastor (Graig Flach) edited it and made it sound very joyful. When three people responded to it, I thought it was just amazing.'

The first person tested was found not to be a match. But Klein was found to be a perfect match. In fact, she matched in a way that Pritchard could not have possibly anticipated.

'When I saw that notice in the newsletter, it was like a light going on,' Klein said. 'I thought, 'That is what I'm supposed to do.''

A 'truly religious person,' Klein believes she was being prepared for a long time to take such an action.

'My son Hunter has had 12 surgeries on his kidneys and bladder,' Klein said. 'I was forced to learn a lot about kidneys, and I thought, 'Would I have to donate a kidney to my son?' Doing a kidney transplant was in the back of my mind.

'When I found out I was a match, I was not surprised at all.'

Klein says there have been several occasions in her life when she knew absolutely for sure what would happen.

'It was so clear,' she said. 'From the second I met my husband, I knew he was going to be my husband. He was literally at my feet, because I dropped my keys in a gutter and David had to lie down to get them. I went back to my college dorm room and told my roommate, 'I just met my husband.''

Seeing those few sentences in the church newsletter made Klein just as decisive. But when it came to giving up a part of her body, she admits, 'Some people thought I was crazy.'

That group did not include her family.

'My parents are the most giving, loving people,' Klein said. 'They gave me the environment I grew up in - you help other people. When I decided to donate a kidney, it was not a big shock to them.'

In addition, 'I've had a lot of surgeries, so I knew what to expect. Between my son and I, we've had 20 surgeries.'

Yet some close friends were very much against it.

'It was a shock,' Klein said. 'They were absolutely adamant about it. They thought I was off my rocker. But once my mind is made up, that's it. God will take me when He is ready. I can't stop doing the things I believe in.'

There was just one thing Klein wanted to do before she went through with the transplant. She wanted to meet the recipient.

'Ann was so dear, so wonderful,' Klein said. 'She knew this was meant to be.'

'I was just thrilled,' Pritchard said. 'I was very tearful and joyful. What a meeting it was!'

Throughout this entire process there was just the smallest glimmer of doubt for Klein. That was when the original operation date of May 19 was changed due to the results on one of Pritchard's tests.

'Just for a second I thought maybe this wasn't supposed to happen,' Klein said. 'May 19 had been the perfect date for me, where I could arrange everything with my family. But the hospital (Good Samaritan) was able to rearrange things, something it does not normally do.'

The result of the procedure on June 30? Terrific. Or even better than terrific.

'Cindy's kidney started working right away,' Pritchard said. 'Away it went. It just took off.'

'The surgery was easy,' Klein said. 'They just took my kidney out and popped it right into Ann, and now it's working. It was quick and easy.'

Now, both women are tired, but they are healing well. Klein has already returned to the flow of her very busy life.

'When you have three kids, you tend to jump back into things quick,' she said.

Meanwhile, thanks to Klein, Pritchard is getting her life back.

'Ann started feeling so much better right away,' Klein said. 'It's a great feeling to know that her life will improve dramatically.'

'I hope to get back to normal,' said Pritchard, the author of two novels. 'For a year and a half I was unable to write, my thinking was so clouded and fuzzy and my energy level was in the basement. It is very, very draining when your kidneys don't work.

'I love to garden, I love to travel, I want to renew friendships. Just lead a normal life.'

There is another thing that Pritchard especially wants to do.

'My family wants to honor Cindy in some way,' she said. 'Maybe set up a financial endowment for a scholarship in her name.'

Not a saint? Not an angel? There must be some term that can best describe Cindy Klein.

Maybe this one: Good Samaritan.