WEST SIMSBURY – A parishioner walks up to her pastor and says, “I want to give you my kidney.”
Pastor smiles and says, “Okay.”
Don’t expect a punch line. It’s no joke.
Father Michael G. Whyte arrived at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in 2007 and has been pastor there since 2008. A type 1 diabetic, he began experiencing extreme tiredness and nausea at about that time, signs of kidney failure due to the diabetes. Doctors gave him three choices: go on dialysis and live five or six more years; do nothing and die within six months; or get a kidney transplant and – if it’s from a live donor – live 20 to 25 years.
Two years ago, he announced at Mass that he was on the waiting list for a kidney.
More than one parishioner offered to be tested to see if they would be qualified donors, but Margaret Domashinski, a parishioner who lives in West Suffield, Mass., already knew she would be the one.
“I knew I was a match,” she said during an interview at the rectory on Stratton Brook Drive Nov. 19. “I know that’s kind of spooky, but it’s true. I knew.”
Asked what it was about Father Whyte that prompted her to make the offer, Mrs. Domashinski paused, as if puzzled by the question. “He needed a transplant. He needed a kidney,” she said.
Father Whyte, looking fit as he sat beside his donor 10 weeks after transplant surgery, said, “I think it is very difficult when someone tells you that they’re considering getting tested or they would like to give you a body part. It is very hard to say” – he struggled for words, then continued – “[a mere] thank-you doesn’t seem to be appropriate.”
When Mrs. Domashinski made the offer about a year ago, after a daily Mass, Father Whyte was struck by her matter-of-fact attitude. She offered him her kidney “like it was a doughnut,” he said.
Of course, knowing instinctively that you are a match isn’t quite good enough for the medical profession, and Mrs. Domashinski underwent many levels of testing to ensure that both she and Father Whyte would have good chances of recovery. Their blood types had to match, and they do. Despite having family members with diabetes, the risk at her age (mid-50s) is minimal that she would develop it. Her overall health is good.
Other, more subjective factors came into play also, Father Whyte said. He said doctors asked Mrs. Domashinski, “How are you going to feel if your other kidney has an issue or if your child needs one?”
He said doctors asked him, “How are you going to feel having a part of another person inside of you?”
On a scale of 1,000 to 5,000, with the lowest number being the best match, Mrs. Domashinski scored 1,000 – the same as a twin would score, he said.
All her family – her husband Michael and their three daughters (ages 17, 13 and 10) – were 100 percent supportive every step of the way, she said. “Go, Mom!” one daughter said. “Go for it, kiddo!” her husband said.
When it seemed all was set, Mrs. Domashinski announced in the spring of 2014 that she was going to Africa to do mission work at Kampala Children’s Center, Kampala, Uganda. Father Whyte said, “I got a little concerned. I said, ‘Hey, you’re going with my future kidney.’”
But Mrs. Domashinski took every precaution and returned safely and in good health.
Father Whyte said, “The day before the surgery, I had a couple of people come in and say they hoped everything goes well, and they would get a little emotional. And I said to myself. ‘What, do they think I’m going to die?’”
He said, “The day of our surgeries – as we are obviously operated on at the same time – the parish held a prayer vigil and it was just – they aid it was a nonstop streaming of people coming in lighting candles and saying prayers.”
Surgery was on Sept. 9 at Yale New Haven Hospital. Before undergoing three-port laparoscopic surgery to remove one of her kidneys, Mrs. Domashinski told her doctor, “If I die during this procedure, make sure you give him my pancreas,” as well.
But she and Father Whyte came through their surgeries fine. Mrs. Domashinski said that Father Whyte’s surgeon, Dr. Peter Yoo, came to see her in recovery and said, “Oh, your kidney started working before we even finished sewing it up! Oh, your kidney!”
She thought, “Obviously, he’s some kind of kidney groupie.”
Meanwhile, just hours after his surgery, Father Whyte was walking around his hospital room, not even in the slightest pain. (Mrs. Domashinski actually had more pain than he had.)
They were both released three days later. At Mass a week later, Father Whyte praised the medical team.
Mrs. Domashinski said, “And I was sitting in front saying, ‘Yeah, that’s mine! You’ll get 30 years out of it!’” In telling the story, she punched the air with her fist.
Turning to his donor, Father Whyte said, “I don’t know how you feel, but sometimes I’m driving in the car and it hits me. This was major surgery. But at the same token, I was amazed – and I give this credit to God and my doctors – that within six weeks of having this transplant I was back to work and I’m full-time.”
Mrs. Domashinski said the ease of her decision comes from her upbringing. Her parents told her, “You’re not here just to be a piece of furniture.”
Father Whyte said, “As we like to say here at St. Catherine’s, we’re going to take away her envelope. She doesn’t have to give anymore.”
Mrs. Domashinski said, “I’d like to see more people thinking about all of our priests who are in hospital because not all priests have somebody there to visit them. … We need to take care of these guys. They’ve given everything up.”
Father Whyte said, “You know, I have to be honest, I’m not the bravest person in the world, but I never felt afraid.… I had an entire parish praying for me. What else could happen but good?”
He added, “People are already waiting for another Lazarus to be raised from the dead or another 5,000 to be fed. Just open your eyes. God gives us miracles. We just call it medicine. But there are a lot of miracles out there.”
He looked at his donor and said, “So this is really a miracle. It’s a gift of life.”