By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 26, 2015
ATLANTA—Being healthy is not something that Kevin Rogers and Ann Burkly take for granted.
Rogers, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Atlanta, and Burkly, a member of St. Joseph Church in Marietta, each gave extraordinary gifts in recent months by donating a kidney to another person with failing organs. Rogers gave one of his kidneys to his uncle, Merlin Todd, while Burkly donated one of hers to friend and music director, John Brandt.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the national transplant waiting list, more than 122,530 Americans are waiting for lifesaving transplants. Over 5,600 Georgians are on the list, most of them in need of kidneys. Twenty-two people die daily in the U.S. while waiting for organs.
“It was an easy decision. For me with my Catholic upbringing, it was a no-brainer,” said Rogers, of donating a kidney to his uncle.
On the Fourth of July a year ago, Rogers learned about the seriousness of his 59-year-old uncle’s health problems from his mother, Todd’s older sister.
“He didn’t know I was on dialysis and my kidneys were failing,” said Todd.
“Has anyone been tested to see if they’re a match?” Rogers remembers asking his mother.
Todd, a longtime catechist for confirmation classes at St. Paul of the Cross Church in Atlanta, had not broadcast his health problems very widely.
“We all have our crosses to bear,” Todd said. “Some people knew and some people didn’t.”
For months Todd had been on peritoneal dialysis, a form that allows dialysis patients to receive at-home treatment.
“Mine were damaged several years ago due to a violent reaction to a medication,” said Todd about the reason behind his kidneys’ decline.
He had taken a sulfa drug for another condition and had a severe allergic reaction.
The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from the blood. Dialysis treatments can replace some of the functions of the kidneys but impact a patient’s quality of life and cannot solve the problem of kidney function.
Donor is high school teacher, coach
Rogers, who is 42, decided to be tested to be a donor to help sustain a life.
“This is something I can do,” he said.
Rogers knew several friends through his parish and community who had been kidney donors and talking to them helped him know what to expect and not to be anxious.
Rogers is a mathematics teacher and coach at Miller Grove High School in Lithonia. He teaches pre-calculus and analytical geometry to seniors and sophomores.
His only concern was having a long-term substitute for such a critical subject area.
“I didn’t want to be out for my students. I told my students, God willing, I’m going to be all right,” said Rogers. “I knew I had to be there for them.”
The transplant was postponed once, due to a slightly elevated creatinine level for Rogers, who felt badly about the delay. It was Todd who reassured his nephew not to worry, and that if it was meant to be, the transplant would happen.
The transplant ultimately took place Aug. 13 at Emory University Medical Center.
Rogers was back at Our Lady of Lourdes the following Sunday, Aug. 23, serving as a Eucharistic minister. The full recovery period is six to eight weeks, and now Rogers is back in the classroom.
Todd is doing well, is back at his job at United Parcel Service and will continue teaching for the confirmation program at St. Paul of the Cross.
Todd remembers visiting his usually soft-spoken uncle following the transplant.
“He’s a whole new person. He’s cracking jokes,” said Rogers. “He’s got a new battery.”
During the testing for organ matching, and whole transplant preparation process, both felt very prepared about what to expect physically, emotionally and financially.
Todd will take anti-rejection medications for life. “Your post-transplant medicines are quite expensive,” he said.
Both have appreciated the prayers from their parish communities.
“People have been very supportive,” said Todd. “One of the first people I talked about it with was our DRE.” As a catechist, Todd wanted to be sure schedules could be worked out for continuity for the teens.
“It was not a problem. We made it happen,” he said.
Todd, a husband and father of two, said he has always been pretty close to his nephew. “I would babysit him when he was little.”
He has always been a blood donor himself and supported the idea of organ donation.
“It’s been on the back of my driver’s license for years,” said Todd about organ donor designation.
But it would be Todd’s gift to receive instead.
His nephew doesn’t see anything heroic about the gift of life through organ donation.
“It goes back to the way I was raised,” said Rogers.