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Kidney donation leaves two students closer to God

Amanda Sentz (right) and Noel Hutchinson share a lighthearted moment before kidney transplant surgery in May. Sentz donated a kidney to Hutchinson. The two met through their involvement with the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University.
Amanda Sentz (right) and Noel Hutchinson share a lighthearted moment before kidney transplant surgery in May. Sentz donated a kidney to Hutchinson. The two met through their involvement with the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University.  A UMNS photo courtesy of Amanda Sentz.

By Larry Macke*
Oct. 7, 2009 | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (UMNS)

Amanda Sentz prayed with a classmate needing a kidney donation at the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at Florida State University. The senior also knew she had the same blood type as Noel Hutchinson, and could see the graduate student becoming weaker.

But considering giving a part of herself to someone else was not an easy decision, particularly with her parents struggling to support her in a decision that involved health risks.

Meanwhile, unaware hope was so close, Hutchinson would not lose faith, even as three potential donors from among her family and friends were disqualified.

“At times it was hard,” she admitted, “especially when things weren’t necessarily looking so good.”

What the two women prayed for – and in the end what both received – was the strength, step by step, to take a leap of faith.

Genetic disorder

Hutchinson, 23, a second-year graduate student, was diagnosed three years ago with a rare, recessive genetic disorder that causes the slow breakdown of the kidney filtering system, leading to end-stage renal failure. It was the same condition that resulted in her mother donating a kidney to her brother seven years earlier.

Amanda Sentz (right) and Noel Hutchinson pose together during the annual “Christmas with your Friends” party at Florida State University’s Wesley Foundation in Tallahassee, Fla., in this December 2006 file photograph.
Sentz and Hutchinson together
at annual Christmas party
at Wesley Foundation in
this 2006 file photo.

Her condition was a periodic topic of concern and prayer within the Wesley congregation of students as it became more pronounced, most prominently in terms of fatigue.

The Rev. Vance Rains, pastor at the Wesley Foundation, recalled Hutchinson’s efforts to manage the condition through diet and medication. By June 2008, the need for a transplant had become clear, he said.

“So we began to pray on that,” he said.

Hutchinson, also, would turn to God.

“One thing I’ve always sought through all of this, is regardless of result, was that his will would be done, and that he would receive the glory for that,” she said. “Just putting my faith that in the end, things are going to work out in the way that he has planned, and just being open to him and praying and seeking his face through it all.”

When Sentz approached her a year ago offering to help, Hutchinson said she felt “a surreal excitement. … When I found out she was the same blood type, I just kind of knew it was going to work out.”

Finding strength

Sentz had Hutchinson as a group leader during her freshman year, and so she had always known of the illness.

When she found out she was the same blood type after overhearing that Hutchinson, too, was A-positive, Sentz tucked the fact away in her mind.

As other potential donors dropped out, Sentz approached Hutchinson with an offer to help.

“Decisions like this have to come from within. God put it on Amanda’s heart, and she went and had herself tested,” Rains said.

That was only the first step.

“It would have gotten a little overwhelming if I didn’t take it step by step,” Sentz said. “I figured, I’m just going to fill out the paperwork, and that’s step one. I do this, and if it works, we’ll move on.”

Her parents, like Hutchinson. might have opted for the term “surreal” in describing the situation. Many parents take great pride in seeing their children perform acts of service, but most draw the line at choices that involve health risks.

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The Sentzes struggled to support Amanda, a reaction that was difficult for a daughter who always felt complete support in all endeavors. She felt their love, however, and recognized that they, too, would need to process this little by little.

“With them it was like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m just filling out the paperwork,’ ” she recalled. “Then they started telling their friends and noticing things on TV about kidney donations, and their friends would tell them stories about people they know and how great it was. They didn’t get to the point of, ‘We’re so happy you’re doing this,’ but rather, ‘We’re proud of you … but still worried.’”

By then, Sentz had made her decision.

“I feel like we’re supposed to love people as Christians, to do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters. I just thought, well, why wouldn’t I, if she’s in need? I feel like Christ would have, Christ would give anything for us, so why shouldn’t I have given this for her?”

Giving thanks

The transplant occurred in May.

Sentz spent a week in the hospital and another week or two recuperating before she was back to her regular routine. She needs to avoid contact sports and certain medications, and she has a few minor souvenir incisions, but she’s doing as well as she ever has.

“It’s pretty much back to normal, just like I was before,” she said recently.

Not completely the same. Sentz, 21, said she has grown spiritually.

“I definitely know during the process I had to rely on God to just heal us both, because it was such a big procedure,” she said. “And everything, especially with Noel, we just had to trust that God was going to help the kidney to take, that he was going to be in the situation.”

Hutchinson’s journey since the operation has been a little rockier, including a hospitalization for treatment of persistent fever.

But now, she said, she is back in full swing at school.

“Kidney disease makes people anemic, and so I was always so tired, but with a functioning kidney my energy level is just through the roof in comparison,” she says. “I feel so blessed and grateful.”

Hutchinson, also, said she has grown in her faith.

“God has the ability where he uses everything for his glory, and we from a human point of view think that it’s a bad situation,” she said. “But there’s always room for him to receive glory in it and there’s always room for something to happen positive out of it. It’s been really neat learning this.”

*Macke is a freelance writer based in Vero Beach, Fla.

News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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