Earlier this summer, in the days before a family vacation, Gerry Rogers got news from his doctor that he had been dreading.
After a decade of kidney disease and a year of waiting for a transplant, he would have to go on dialysis.
Rogers, 66, knew he would work to live his life as fully as possible, but he also knew things wouldn’t be the same. Travel, volunteering, time with his family – all things that had already been complicated by his kidney disease – would become even more difficult.
“You’re alive; that’s good,” he said. “But it tethers you.”
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The disease, which had gotten progressively worse, left Rogers feeling depleted. He was often cold or exhausted, and his kidney function percentage dipped into the single digits.
Just a few days later though, there was more news. And this time, it was the announcement Rogers and his family had been waiting for: he had a match for a kidney transplant.
The donor was none other than a friendly face from the congregation at downtown’s First Presbyterian Church, where Rogers is a member.
Eddie Jay, 67, had volunteered to find out whether he might be a match for Rogers many months earlier. He had heard through church newsletters and social networking postings about what Rogers was going through, but he was especially moved when he heard Rogers’ wife, Judy, speak before a meeting of church elders about the situation.
Jay had seen the difference a liver transplant made for a family member of his own, and he was eager to volunteer, even for someone he didn’t know particularly well.
“I just feel like you only get so many opportunities to say yes and help people. So I always say yes,” he said.
Jay cleared round after round of tests and eventually was given the all-clear to donate. When the two finally connected and shared the news, they said it felt like part of a much bigger plan.
“I feel like it’s a God thing. God’s in control,” Jay said.
A few weeks later, on Tuesday in July, both men showed up in the early morning hours at UNC Hospital for surgery. As they recuperated over several days, they spent some of their time walking the halls together and getting to know one another better. Each has two children and two grandchildren, and are long-time UNC fans and Raleigh residents.
By Friday, both were home. Two days later, on Sunday, they sat together in a pew at First Presbyterian, grateful to the congregation that supported them along the way with signs of their love and support, from cards to homemade meals.
Rogers feels better than he has in years. His kidney functioning has returned to normal levels.
“His smile is just unbelievable,” Judy Rogers said. “Because it had gone away.”
Now, both men and their wives say they hope their story will encourage others to consider donating.
Annette Jay, Eddie’s wife, said the process was far easier than she anticipated. Rogers’ insurance covered all of Jay’s costs, and Jay’s employer, PSNC Energy, has been understanding and supportive by giving him the time off he needed.
“I didn’t know it would be this simple,” she said.
Rogers said he’s looking forward to enjoying time with his family and sharing his talents with the church. He’s grateful for the future he has now thanks to the donation.
“You’re not donating a kidney. You’re donating life,” he said.