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Transplanting Faith

Crossing paths, and organs, at VCU Medical Center.

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Four months ago, Barrett underwent a battery of tests and interviews with VCU's transplant team to become a candidate for a dual kidney and pancreas transplant.

On Feb. 5, the day before my brother got the call about a possible donor, he and his wife, Kelly, attended the baptism of my 4-month-old daughter. The topic of the sermon that Sunday was faith. The minister drew an analogy of a rock climber on a precipice, struggling with loose footing, clinging to a juniper twig while God urged him to let go. The minister spoke of faith as reliance in what we can't see, stressing the object of faith as opposed to our expectancy for it.

Barrett and his wife arrived at the hospital Feb. 7 around 5 a.m. His surgery began shortly before 10.

In hospitals, waiting rooms can be quiet but urgent places. Whatever outside forces land people in them seem to make time stand still once they are there. The operation lasted about seven hours. Getting word about Barrett's progress took longer. Intermittently, family and friends came to offer comfort. Unknowingly, strangers did too.

While waiting, my mom met a 36-year-old Richmond man who said he'd had a dual liver-kidney transplant in 1994. He told my mom how the transplant saved his life. He had two children then; today he has five. He was at the hospital for a routine checkup, he said. And it turned out my other brother had known him when they were teenagers.

Later in the afternoon my mom met a woman who said she was a "K-P" — a kidney-pancreas transplant recipient. Her surgery had taken place 11 years ago on my mom's birthday, and the first child she had after the transplant shares my name. To my mom, the stories were more than coincidences. They were touchstones.

Sometimes worlds seem to collide, chipping off pieces of the past. When Barrett was 10, a car hit him while he was riding his bike. He was critically injured and taken to Medical College of Virginia. As a result of the accident, he missed much of his fourth-grade year.

A 17-year-old John Marshall High School student won't see his graduation this spring. He was shot in his home on Fendall Avenue Feb. 5. He died at VCU Medical Center. The teen's homicide was reported the same day my brother had his surgery. A newspaper account of his death describes the teen as selfless, so much so that his family chose to donate his organs.

The day my brother had his transplant, I went to the hospital, but I wasn't allowed to see him. I called my mom repeatedly for updates. Finally, she informed me that Barrett was out of surgery and that the donated kidney was thriving, but the pancreas needed time.

Meanwhile, a family friend and pastor of a Hanover County church learned that Barrett was in the hospital while the pastor was visiting a member of his congregation with terminal cancer.

Another family that attends the pastor's church had come to VCU Medical Center that day. It was a young couple and their 18-month-old son. The boy had appeared perfectly healthy the day before. Inexplicably and rapidly, that had changed. The toddler had contracted bacterial meningitis. By nightfall, the toddler was brain dead and on life support.

At the couple's request, the pastor prepared to baptize the child. He asked my dad, who didn't know the family, to assist — which he did. And in the midst of what must have been for the parents an incomprehensible anguish, a kind of blindness may have taken hold. The couple decided to keep their young son on life support for 12 more hours in case his organs could be donated to someone who needed them. S

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