In many ways the intersecting paths of McKinsy Lietz and Kirn Wildhaber is a story of faith, the faith of a woman, the faith of a family and the faith of a community.
While most of us rarely give a second thought to the inner workings of our bodies, let alone our kidney’s, the bean-shaped organs have dominated the lives of the Kirn and Stephanie Wildhaber’s family (Autumn, K.J. and Ella) for more than a decade.
In 2008, (Kirn) Wildhaber discovered that both of his kidneys were failing. Healthy kidneys remove waste products and extra water from the body, help make red blood cells and help control blood pressure . They are responsible for maintaining a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals including sodium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium in the blood. Without this balance, the nerves, muscles and other tissues in the body can not work normally.
Following several months of dialysis, the Wildhabers discovered that Stephanie’s brother Nathan Grider was a donor match. Grider became a living organ donor in 2009, and Wildhaber’s health improved allowing the newly growing family’s quality of life to return to a more even keel.
In August 2017, eight and a half years after the transplant, Wildhaber was hospitalized for a virus. While the couple was originally told that the transplanted kidney would heal from the infection they discovered that this would not be the case in mid-September 2017. After several months of testing to determine what was causing the kidney failure, the Wildhabers were informed that Kirn had a genetic disease, caused by a recessive trait that attacked his kidneys.
Wildhaber's life became centered around the dialysis treatments that were keeping him alive and as active as possible. He spent four plus hours, three days a week, receiving dialysis at an out-patient clinic. The treatments that were necessary to keep his body functioning left him exhausted and unable to get through more than menial tasks let alone a full-time job. All the while, life was continuing on around him. The Wildhaber's son K.J. was starting preschool at Hillsboro Community Child Development Center (HCCDC) and as fate would have it, his teacher was none other than the woman who would answer the family's prayers.
The Lietz family, which would grow to include three-year-old Emery and one-and-a-half-year-old Aven, relocated to Hillsboro from Ashley in 2014, to be closer to McKinsy's family. Her mother and stepfather, Margaret and Greg Delong are longtime residents of Hillsboro. The Lietzs are a young growing family and at that time Kody Lietz was often deployed serving in the Air National Guard. Lietz is a preschool teacher and knew the Wildhabers in passing, as their oldest daughter Autumn attended the local school and daycare facility.
"I had only known the Wildhabers through the daycare that I work at. They were such kind and involved parents and I enjoyed spending time with their children. When I found out that Kirn needed a transplant, I added him to the prayer requests at my church, little did I know I was the answer to that prayer all along," said Lietz. "One morning while unpacking K.J.'s breakfast, Stephanie was briefly explaining that Kirn was an O positive blood type. Somehow a joke was made. I kind of laughed and lightheartedly said, 'Hey, that's my blood type. I could be a match, you never know.' I was just talking to make conversation, but God did not take it lightheartedly."
While the suggestion began as a jest, Lietz could not shake the feeling that she should be tested. The idea was constantly present in her mind and when she attended her church, Net Community Church in Staunton the following Sunday, she was taken aback to find her Pastor Derrick Taylor was delivering a sermon about saying yes to God's call. After some reflection, Leitz spoke to the Wildhabers and filled out the paperwork to be tested. Unfortunately, Lietz did not make it any farther than filling out the paperwork as she was three months postpartum from delivering her youngest child Aven. Regulations stipulate that individuals must be at least one year postpartum before testing may take place. Both parties felt that the story had stopped there, however, what felt like a resounding no at the time was little more than a not yet.
In January 2019, after more than a year and a half on the transplant list with no donor in sight, Wildhaber began to make long-term plans for life on dialysis. He opted to begin peritoneal dialysis, which he could do himself at his own home. This option would free him from hours in the clinic, as it is typically undertaken when the individual is sleeping and would allow him more mobility. While he had not given up on the idea that a donor would be found, Wildhaber knew the statistics for a quick match were not in his favor. The average time on the transplant list for a kidney is three to four years and blood type O often has the longest wait. This is because blood type O donors can donate to other blood groups but patients with blood type O can only receive an organ from a donor with blood type O.
"Around the same time that I began planning for long-term dialysis, my brother-in-law Nathan started a campaign trying to raise awareness about the need for living organ donors. We were all starting to lose hope that I would receive another transplant, let alone quickly, and he was doing everything in his power to find a match for me."
At the same time, Lietz was at the end of the one year postpartum rule that is set for donors and again felt the call to be tested. After a lot of prayer and reflection, Lietz once again made a phone call to Barnes Jewish Hospital asking to be tested as a possible donor match.
"Kody and I both spent a lot of time in prayer and I asked God to give us a sign that this was the right decision," said Lietz. "I prayed that if this was His will he would make me a perfect match."
Lietz's results came back and she was a direct match to Wildhaber. While excited by this news, she still had to complete months of testing to determine that she was the best possible match before the transplant surgery was officially scheduled for Tuesday, June 18. Lietz was able to do most of this testing from her own home. The testing was mostly non-invasive and Lietz was sent the equipment to gather the needed samples and was able to bring them into her local hospital laboratory for testing.
While many people, including the Wildhabers, are shocked by Lietz's selfless generosity, those closest to her are not. When asked, her husband, who has known Lietz since they were children, laughingly says he always knew something like this would happen. Her mother describes her as always being unbelievably kind and giving, stating that even as a little girl she had a remarkably strong faith and that no one who knows her well would be surprised that she would wholeheartedly do something so selfless.
Throughout the past year, the community has been actively fundraising to benefit the Wildhabers, never knowing how needed those funds would soon be.
"I truly believe that this was God's plan all along. We have been praying for a donor for over a year, but God had already given us a donor back in early 2018, we just didn't stop to listen because we could not tangibly see that our prayers had already been answered," said Stephanie Wildhaber online, after finding out that an official transplant date had been set. "I have spoken to McKinsy about this and we both believe that what we thought was a no was really God telling us to be patient because none of us were ready yet. He knew that McKinsy teaches pre-K and that summer would be the best time for her to recover from surgery. God also knew summer would be the best time for our family, as our children will be out of school and can stay with friends or family, with no one worrying about homework or getting them to and from school. We did not ask the Knights of Columbus to donate the proceeds from one of their fish dinners to us or (our church) St. Agnes Catholic Church to sell 50/50 tickets and organize bake sales, but they did. We did not ask the Coffeen Lions club to donate the proceeds from their pancake breakfast to us, but they did. As a result of this endless generosity, both of our families will be able to pay our bills without worrying about unpaid time off of work. When you think your prayers are not being answered, stop and listen and look around you. Trust His timing, He knows what He is doing"
Both families ask only for prayers and that those within their community consider helping the numerous other families in the Wildhabers' situation by becoming living organ donors. More information on living organ donation may be found online at www.barnesjewish.org/Medical-Services/Transplant/Kidney-Transplant/How-To-Become-A-Living-Kidney-Donor.