Opportunity Knocks

I had a good job, a family and perfect health. Yet I wondered if there was more to life...

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- Posted on Nov 17, 2010

Everyday angel donates kidney

Door to door. That had been my life as a vacuum salesman for two years. I went into neighborhoods and demonstrated our product by cleaning people's carpets. If they liked what they saw I did my best to close the deal. 

The company I worked for was a good one for a family man like me, with a wife and three children to provide for. I was lucky. Still, I wondered if there was something more I could be doing. Something important. I believe there's a greater purpose for my life, I thought one afternoon in May as I drove to the next house on my route. I just don't know what it is. 

Maybe I needed to look out for ways to make a difference with the job I had. I challenged myself right then and there. Every house call was an opportunity to put a smile on someone's face—whether I sold a vacuum cleaner or not. I pulled up in front of a neat brick ranch. At the very least, I'm going to brighten this person's day. I walked to the front door and rang the bell. A blond woman answered.

I introduced myself and explained my business. "Are you the lady of the house, as they say?" She said her name was Andi, and I gave her my sales pitch. At the end she invited me in to demonstrate. "So, what do you think?" I asked when the demo was over.

She hesitated. I'd been a salesman long enough to know that look. She'd let me in because she was too polite not to. She had no intention of buying a vacuum from me. "It did a great job on the carpet," she said, "but we can't afford it now. Medical bills are wiping us out."

"I totally understand," I said quickly. I packed up the equipment. Medical bills were more important than vacuums. I turned to go, but something made me stop. Maybe you can make a difference here. I couldn't imagine how. "Who's sick?" I blurted.

Andi's eyes filled with tears. "My boyfriend is in full renal failure. Paul's been on dialysis waiting for a kidney transplant for three years. If he doesn't find a donor soon he won't make it."

I knew what it was like to lose a loved one. My sister, Cassie, had died when we were both in our teens, and I still couldn't say I was over my terrible loss. "But can't he get a kidney from someone in the family?" I asked. 

Andi shook her head. "His brothers were all tested, but their blood types don't match. I tried too, but Paul is O positive."

"I'm O positive."

She stared at me. What was she thinking? "Would you consider giving Paul a kidney?" she whispered.

For the first time in all my years as a salesman, words escaped me. I didn't know what to say. Just give a complete stranger a kidney? That would be crazy! "That's, uh, something I'd have to think about," I said. I thanked her for letting me perform the demonstration, and left.

My head was swimming as I walked down the driveway. How could she ask such a thing? Donate my kidney? I didn't even know the guy.

I got into my van and tried to prepare for my next demonstration. But all I could think of was my sister, and how I felt when I lost her. I would have done anything, asked anyone—for anything—if I thought it might have saved Cassie. I saw that same desperation in Andi's eyes when she asked me to help her boyfriend. 

What were the odds of my going to that house on this day? Or of this topic coming up during a sales call? Or of me sharing this blood type? My help could make all the difference. Could this be the greater purpose I've been praying about? I called my wife from the van.

"You're going to do it, aren't you?" she said. "I can hear it in your voice."

Then I called my father, a psychologist who worked with physicians. He explained the procedure in detail and cautioned me about the risks. 

"It's more than having a matching blood type," he said. "You'll have to match tissues, be considered extremely healthy and pass a psychological exam."

I closed my cell phone. A strange calmness fell over me. I saw Cassie's sweet smile in my mind. I'd always thought of her as watching over me now from her place with the angels. Cassie, help me make the right decision.

I got out of the van and went back to Andi's house. "If my kidney's a match, I'll do it," I said. Andi looked completely shocked. She wrapped her arms around my neck. "I'll call Paul at work and tell him to come straight here." 

Paul was skeptical, naturally. "It's a wonderful gesture," he said, "but the odds are very slim that you'll actually be a match." I could understand that he wouldn't want his hopes up. 

"I know you want to be realistic," I said. "But we've got to give it a try." 

Something told me it was definitely worth it. The following Monday I went to the hospital. I never knew there were so many things you could be tested for! Yet one by one, I was passing on to the next. Andi and Paul were with me the whole time. "I knew it would work!" I told them after each hurdle. A glimmer of hope appeared in Paul's eyes, followed by the hint of a smile. I wanted to see that smile, and that hope, grow. 

"There's just one test left," the doctor said late that afternoon. "The psychological exam."

I told the psychiatrist about Cassie, and how I was a man of deep faith who wanted to help others. "We're going to approve you as a donor," the doctor said, "but we won't be able to perform the operation for three months."

"I've waited three years to have this operation," Paul said when I told him the news. "I can wait three more months."

Paul and I got to know each other over those three months. Movies, barbecues, watching the game together on a Sunday. It had once seemed so crazy to donate my kidney to someone who wasn't family, but by the end of the waiting period Paul and I had spent so much time together that we felt like we were family. 

The operation was a success. Today Paul is feeling as good as he did before he went into kidney failure. "I can never thank you enough," Paul tells me sometimes. That's when I remind him how thankful I am. He got a kidney, but now I never have to wonder about what more I should be doing with my life. Paul gave me the purpose I'd been praying for. It's the challenge with which I choose to greet each new day. The challenge to make a difference, in some small way, to everyone life puts in my path.

It was a Kirby Sentria vacuum cleaner that brought Jamie Howard and Paul Sucher together. But the amazing connection doesn't end there. "We were at a Fourth of July barbecue when I met Paul's dad for the first time," Jamie says. "Turns out, my great-aunt's husband was married to Paul's dad's first cousin." Jamie and Paul are related, if distantly, by marriage! And there's still one more thing that keeps these two close: "We're just plain old good friends," says Paul. 

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