The Gift of Life
Calvin’s own feel called to become kidney donors
By Lynn Bolt Rosendale ’85

Alissa Pitcher, organ donor

Alissa Pitcher (r.) with her best friend's brother, Kryn

For Sally Vander Ploeg ’80, Ephesians 2:10 said everything she needed to know about her decision to donate a kidney: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

“That verse felt like a call to me to do something,” said Vander Ploeg, upon finding out that her aunt’s husband needed a kidney. “I felt like I had to do something about this. I couldn’t let it rest; I kept badgering my aunt about it.”

It was similar for 21-year-old Calvin student Alissa Pitcher, who received an e-mail last year from the mom of her best friend growing up, asking for prayers for her son, Kryn, who was in need of a kidney.

Sally VanderPloeg, organ donor“It was kind of like a no-brainer to me,” she said. “About six months before this e-mail I had been thinking about how I had been blessed with so much and I didn’t know why. When I got the e-mail I thought, ‘I think this is my reason.’”

Amazingly both Vander Ploeg and Pitcher were matches to their respective recipients despite no family relation.

“I was kind of shocked initially when I got the call that I was a match, but the way I felt about it, it really shouldn’t have been that surprising after all,” said Vander Ploeg.

Vander Ploeg, a major gift officer in Calvin’s development office, successfully donated her kidney nearly five years ago, and has since become an advocate for organ donation and a mentor for those considering it like Pitcher.

Pitcher came to Vander Ploeg for counsel last fall after learning she was a match for Kryn. “Everyone kept reminding me I could still say ‘no,’ but for me that’s not how I work,” said Pitcher. “I couldn’t have turned back.”

Vander Ploeg explained much about the procedure to Pitcher and helped her understand what to expect. “There were many affirmations throughout the process,” Pitcher said. “It isn’t for everyone, and I tried to be careful about that. This was just something between me and God, and I had amazing peace about it, and I knew everything was going to be fine.”

Organ Donation

More than 105,000 people are waiting today for transplant surgeries, according to the official U.S. government Web site for organ and tissue donation.

The number of people who need a transplant continues to rise faster than the number of available donors. The waiting list for transplants grows by approximately 300 people each month.

Each day, approximately 77 people receive an organ transplant.

However, 19 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs.

Statistics from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Pitcher believes she came to this way of thinking after spending a semester off campus in Calvin’s program in Ghana.

“Calvin has changed me for the better,” she said. “It has in an overall sense helped me tear down my traditional faith and helped me build up my own personal faith. And a part of that whole experience was the Calvin Ghana program; it put things in perspective.

“Yes, there’s desperate poverty there, and it makes you appreciate what you have here, but it’s much more than that. It’s a whole new way of thinking really. I feel like I’ve been blessed already so much in my life that if my life got really bad I could live happily because of all the blessings I’ve already experienced.”

In December, Pitcher successfully donated her kidney. “For me it was a really good decision,” she said. “It’s a cool thing to be a part of something big like that; to extend someone else’s life by what I did doesn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice to me.”

Added Vander Ploeg: “You know when God is calling you to do something. It was like I was a person who had two winter coats. I was wearing one and holding on to one, and my uncle was standing next to me with no winter coat. I couldn’t keep holding on to it.”