by Paul Phillips.
I’ve experienced firsthand the love of a father for his child. I can say without a doubt that my four children are my greatest assets. I call them my “monuments” and they are by far my greatest earthly achievement. I watched as each of them took their first breath, and at that precise moment I was held captive by the powerful force called fatherhood. I pledged my allegiance to them as I cradled them in my arms for the very first time and gazed into their fresh faces. I would take whatever measures necessary for each of them to be safe and protected. A father’s love was basic instinct for me. But I wasn’t prepared for the day when the roles were reversed and my only son laid down his life for me. His sacrifice has given me the gift of life, leaving indelible “footprints” in my soul forever.
In April 2008, I was informed that my 55-year-old kidneys were only functioning at 9 percent. I was referred to a team of nephrologists at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After a thorough examination, I was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure (ESRF).
I was given two options. I could prepare for dialysis, or I could begin the kidney transplant process. After discussing the pros and cons of each lifesaving procedure, the doctors felt I would have a better prognosis if I would avoid dialysis altogether and just proceed with a kidney transplant. After a few days of intense testing, I was informed that my name was on the National Kidney Registry.
The doctors warned me, however, that it might take up to four years before a kidney from a cadaver would be available. I was running out of time and knew my diseased kidneys wouldn’t last but a few more months. My only hope was a living donor.
My three brothers offered to give me one of their kidneys. Being full-blooded siblings, I was confident we would all be a match made in heaven. But after simple blood tests, we were devastated to learn that none of them were compatible with my rare blood type.
My four children were aware that my kidneys’ clock was ticking. They called the Mayo Clinic and volunteered to be tested as soon as possible. I struggled with accepting one of my offspring’s kidneys. The mental anguish and all the “what if’s” were much worse than the kidney disease.
I worried if the disease was hereditary. “What if one of my children gives me a kidney, and then years down the road they face kidney disease themselves?” The doctors assured us that the living donor must pass stringent testing before even being accepted as an organ donor. Those words gave us enough peace of mind to proceed.
Twenty-seven-year-old John was chosen as our family’s M.V.D. – Most Valuable Donor. The surgery date was scheduled for June 12, 2008, at Methodist Hospital in Rochester. It was just three days before Father’s Day.
The night before surgery, a flood of precious memories swept over me. Tears stung my eyes as I took several sentimental journeys. The one memory that kept playing over and over in my mind was the day John Drake Phillips was born. It was a rainy October 27, 1980, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We were only at the hospital a couple of hours when he announced his arrival.
He had a head full of fine, brown hair and tipped the scales at eight pounds ten ounces. As his mother and I examined every inch of his chubby frame, we were shocked to see he had a black eye. We teased that he would surely be a prizefighter when he grew up.
Our words were prophetic. Thirteen days later, he was in a fight for his life. He woke up one morning with a high temperature and refused to nurse. We rushed him to the doctor, and he was immediately admitted to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a deadly bacterial spinal meningitis. His pediatrician informed us that John’s life was in danger. We watched as our little champion fought hard and defied death.
Now, I found myself in a full-circle moment. “What if John hadn’t survived when he was that tiny baby? What if John’s life was spared years ago so he could help save mine now?” Suddenly I was convinced that my son donating one of his kidneys to me was part of his divine destiny. I believed that John, as a newborn, was given a second chance at life so he could now be able to give me a second chance at life. I gasped as hope swelled in my soul. “He fought for his life and won. Now our little prizefighter was in the ring again, fighting for my life.”
I pulled a pen and tablet from my briefcase and began writing a note of gratitude:
Life can take many twists and turns. Isn’t it interesting that 27 years ago, your mother and I gave life to you? Now God is using you to give life to me. Because of your unselfish gift, my life will be extended. I love you, John, and I will never forget your sacrifice. Thank you. Never forget that I will always have a part of you in me.
P.S. You are giving me quite a Father’s Day gift. I wonder what you’ll give me next year. (grin)
Just as I finished stuffing the letter in an envelope, I looked up and saw John walking toward me with a card in his hand.
“Dad, I want you to have your Father’s Day card before surgery.” He choked out the words.
“I’ve got a note for you, too,” I said, as I handed him my letter.
“You read mine first, Dad.”
“Okay.” I replied.
You are the best dad a boy could have. You have always been there for me. Now it’s my turn to be there for you. I know it is hard for you to accept this gift, but I would rather have one kidney and my dad still alive than have two kidneys and not have my dad here with me. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.
I reached for my boy just as he was reaching for me. We embraced and wept together. “Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” John sniffed.
Brushing the tears from my cheeks I replied. “It’s your turn to read my letter now, son.”
I watched as John devoured every word. Our deepening bond had been cemented by the difficult circumstances life had dealt us. At that very moment, my prizefighting son was (and continues to be) the finest man I know.
John’s eyes glistened. Winking at me, he joked. “That’s the best ‘Dear John’ letter I’ve ever read.” We laughed together as he continued, “If it’s all right with you, Dad, next year for Father’s Day I think I’m just going to buy you a tie.”
Paul Phillips is the senior pastor of Gospel Lighthouse Church & Academy in Floyd, Iowa.