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The Crusader: St. Sabina dad hoping to get kidney

by Chinta Strasberg

Hoping for kidney in time to give daughter’s hand in marriage

All 60-year-old Ernest Sanders wants to do is to give his daughter’s hand in marriage come June 22. Today he is lying flat on his back in Stroger Hospital’s ICU, fighting for his life and hoping and praying he’ll receive a kidney donor that will turn his wish into a reality.

His hopes and prayers for giving away his only child, daughter Samantha Sanders, in marriage were dashed last Wednesday, March 6. On his way to dialysis he was in a car accident that ruptured his spleen, and his brain was injured. “I am hurting and am in very serious condition.”

A native South Side Chicagoan, Sanders, who has been a member of St. Sabina since the early 1990s, where he serves with the Sound Ministry, said, “I have known that I needed a kidney since last March, but it became evident back in September.”

“I need a donor for a kidney. Right now, my kidneys are operating at seven percent.”

His car accident has exaggerated his kidney problem and puts a cloud over his promise to his daughter that he will be at her wedding. All Sanders thinks about are the words the minister will say in June, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” to which he hopes to respond, “I do.”

The scene that floats in and out of his mind is three months away. While he remains in Stroger’s ICU, Sanders is being treated at UI Health (UIC) Hospital’s kidney transplant division and is receiving consultation from Northwestern Hospital.

According to UW Health (Wisconsin), there are more than 88,000 people nationwide waiting for a kidney transplant with the wait times increasing. “Every day, 13 people die waiting for a kidney.”

UW Health officials explained, “Living kidney donors save the life of the recipient and reduce the number of people on the deceased donor waitlist. At UW Health, we honor living kidney donors as life-saving heroes,” officials said on the hospital’s website.

Reached in Stroger Hospital’s ICU, when asked if he is on a kidney donor register, Sanders explained that both UI Health and Northwestern are considering if he is a good candidate for a kidney.

“They are going through that process now. The doctors have asked me to call and put my name on a kidney transplant list, and I have done that,” Sanders said. “The determination has not yet been made.”

Father Michael Pfleger told the Chicago Crusader, “Unfortunately, there are too many like Ernie who are on waiting lists and whose lives are at risk. We need to continue to reach out for donors.”

One of Sanders’ friends at St. Sabina, Michael Byrd, said, “He is an amazing man. I am concerned about him maintaining his health. We have such a long donor’s list. He was concerned about taking a (kidney) donation where someone has to sacrifice a part of their body to save his life. Ernest has such a generous heart, but I believe he’s going to be well,” said Byrd.

According to UI Health’s website, “This process should take six weeks if you and your donor follow all the instructions promptly. If you don’t have a donor but the medical evaluation shows that you are a good candidate for a transplant, you will be put on the national transplant waitlist to receive a kidney from a deceased donor.”

The national transplant waitlist is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which uses a “complex algorithm to match available organs with recipients.” Factors used to consider this include blood type, tissue type, organ size, medical urgency, waiting time, expected benefit, geography and more.

For those on the national transplant list, the wait time ranges from three to five years in the U.S., according to UNOS.

When asked what the public can do to help facilitate a kidney transplant, Sanders said, “I received a call from a group called Gift of Hope.” He is hoping this group will be the answer to his prayers.

Jack Lynch, retired senior administrator for the Gift of Hope, said, “It’s very clear to me that members of Black and brown communities are running into difficulties to navigate the systems in place when they are waiting for an organ transplant.”

Though retired, Lynch continues to help people navigate getting on or staying on the waiting list. He said many people don’t know about available options.

“Patients should be advocating for themselves because if they get on the list, they can wait from five to seven years. That means they would be hooked to a renal dialysis machine either at home or a dialysis center three times a week, four hours a day until an organ is made available.

Lynch said these patients should let their case be known so they can get an organ faster, and that is what Trinette Britt-Johnson, a Rich Township administrator, is doing, advocating for herself. She will join other National Kidney Foundation of Illinois officials at 10 a.m., Friday, March 15, at 215 W. Illinois St., for a press conference on the issue of organ donations.

In kidney failure due to having lost a kidney in 2020, Britt-Johnson said, “I didn’t know that kidney failure is life threatening. You can have a fruitful life with one kidney. God gave you two, but maybe he gave you two so you can share one.”

Her wishes are similar to Sanders’, who said, “My daughter is getting married in June, and I need to be there to walk her down the aisle. I am very tired, but I stopped asking God why me, instead asking, what am I supposed to do with this?

“This is an arduous process, but I have not given up because I am driven by my desire to walk my daughter down the aisle in June,” Sanders added.

Sanders told the Chicago Crusader, “As soon as I am on the kidney transplant list, I am asking people if they want to get tested to see if they are compatible (ages 25-60), to call me at 773.853.6489.e to give daughter’s hand in marriage

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