Father’s Day isn’t synonymous with an outpouring of sacrificial generosity. Golf balls, socks, ties, after shave, slippers–they’re patriarchic acknowledgements available at most drug stores, not tokens of limitless family love.
But as Stewart Reese Jr. recovers from the discomfort of post-operative major surgery, he is aware of his daughter’s unique gift. When the pain subsides, that reminder will remain in the form of a scar across his torso. As it will for Bernita Ann Reese, whose missing kidney is actively keeping her father free from life-hampering dialysis treatment.
Stewart Reese Jr. can look forward to an active lifestyle free from the torment of waiting lists and results for matching donors–a reality befalling the 90,000 Americans who suffer from kidney failure, as Reese did for more than a year.
“I found myself very weak and tired out,” he remembered, adding that his energy levels had vanished.
As the founder and senior pastor of Bethesda Cathedral, Stewart Reese, who has preached for 53 years, was visibly active in the community. However, in 2010, he was diagnosed with failing kidneys, and a year later was strongly advised to begin dialysis. He initially looked elsewhere, believing a miracle was out there.
Medical specialists explored other options, including, as wife Navoria Reese remembered, “an aggressive drug protocol.” But there was no change. That left dialysis, and with it, the inevitability of a life consumed by hours spent in sterile rooms and dictated by the availability of machinery.
This news was relayed last December at the DaVita Dialysis Center, a meeting in which the family would undergo a spectrum of emotions. Bernita, who learned of her father’s ailment last summer, was there to understand more about the condition and for support.
Initially, things started on a somber note. Stewart Reese was plainly told that further avoidance of dialysis would prevent him from even becoming a transplant candidate.
That’s when Bernita said, “I will give my dad one of my kidneys.” The room fell silent for a moment.
“I could hardly believe it,” remembered Stewart Reese. “I just shook my head. She didn’t hesitate one bit – she wanted to give me her kidney.”
A week later, the results came back a positive match, and Stewart Reese would undergo a five-month dialysis regimen to prepare for the May operation.
When the day came, both patients had a team of surgeons. “It was quite a procedure, I’ll tell you that,” said Stewart Reese. “She was in one room and I was in the other. They carried it [the kidney] over to the room I was in.”
For Navoria Reese, seeing a daughter of 46 years and husband of 55 years in surgery at the same time was somewhat unnerving. “I’m human, and quite naturally there were some moments of concern,” she said. “It was awesome: he gave her life, and to think she’s come along 46 years later [to do the same] – it was just so amazing.”
Both Reese patients were successfully discharged in late May, and have been recovering steadily since. The change in Stewart Reese has already been noticeable. From scaling back public appearances, he’s been active in the church and intends to resume more preaching engagements.
“I feel that I can do that without any problems at all,” he said. “I’m getting more strength every day.”
Seeing her father’s spirits lifted has made the experience fulfilling, said Bernita, whose donated kidney was the talking point of a family gathering for Father’s Day. “He says he’s 100 percent and is looking forward to the days to come,” she said. “It’s very gratifying – he’s doing well, healthy and back in the swing of things.”
As for what next year’s Father’s Day gift might be? “Let’s just say a shirt, tie or robe – something that he needs,” she said.