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The Best Thanksgiving

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Pastor Mike Cook and Betty Chenowith are as close as brother and sister after he donated a kidney to her in May. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)
by Tom Chillemi

On May 13, 2009 a bond was formed when Pastor Mike Cook gave one of his kidneys to Betty Chenowith.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Pastor Cook of Philippi Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Deltaville. “There is a strange, mysterious joy in having an opportunity to do something significant for another person. To give of yourself would sound difficult, but it’s exactly the opposite. It’s incredibly energizing and joyful.”

Six months after the kidney transplant, the Deltaville neighbors are both doing well—Chenowith is still recovering and must be cautious. Pastor Cook recovered in only six weeks.

Now that Chenowith has one of Pastor Cook’s kidneys, they call each other “Sis” and “Bro.”

Before her surgery, Chenowith had been told there is a special bond between kidney donors and recipients. “Now I understand the meaning of that bond,” she said. “Mike and I are neighbors, pastor and parishioner, and now like family.”

Chenowith described the whole kidney transplant experience as “a blessing; it’s a miracle. This will be the best Thanksgiving ever.  I’ve been given a second chance at life;  not everyone gets that, and I don’t take it for granted.” 

The six-hour kidney transplant was performed at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital and went well, Chenowith said, adding she was “in good hands.” Dr. Kenneth Brown has 19 years experience with the lengthy procedure.

Her new kidney started working immediately, which doesn’t always happen, Chenowith explained.  Sometimes it takes a few days for the kidney to begin cleaning blood. In such cases, the patient requires dialysis in the meantime to get the kidney going.

After an 18-month wait, Chenowith, at last, had a new kidney. “My life is almost back to normal,” she said. “For me, it (the new kidney) meant that I no longer had to limit my fluid intake or maintain a strict diet.

“I was overwhelmed with happiness  when they removed  the catheter from my chest,” she said. “That’s when the realization hit me that once  again my body could function on its own without the assistance of dialysis, thanks to Mike’s generosity.” 

Both Chenowith and Pastor Cook began an exercise program to help with recovery and are on a healthy diet low in fat, sugar and salt. It’s critical that Chenowith take the 26 pills at the correct time each day.

Pastor Cook joined an exercise class to get over the tiredness that accompanies recovery. That’s when he really began to appreciate the fact he had donated a kidney. “There’s just a great feeling having done it. I would encourage others to do it,” he said.

posted 11.25.2009

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