Daughter’s selfless gift gives life back to Pastor Lane
By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer
Sitting in Dr. Shannon’s waiting room, Pastor John Lane shuffled through magazines like most people do while waiting for an appointment. This shuffling, however, produced something far greater than just passing the time. Pastor Lane came upon a quote that would give him courage and determination heading in to see his nephrologist. He read, “Not everything that’s faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it’s faced.”
So Pastor Lane went in for his appointment and asked Dr. Shannon if a transplant was possible. Dr. Shannon’s answer was “certainly” and they began to explore options for a kidney transplant immediately.
Pastor John Lane has been the pastor for First Baptist Church in Watford City on and off for 12 years. Raised in Tennessee, he has been preaching for 60 years all over the country, from Florida to North Carolina to Montana. Pastor Lane has four living children with his wife, Helen. He also enjoys hunting and fishing.
It was coming home from a fishing trip in Alaska about two and a half years ago, that Pastor Lane, a diabetic for the past 40 years, realized something was amiss.
He went to the hospital and discovered he had a case of pneumonia, though they were unable to identify what kind of bacteria had caused it. A year later Pastor Lane was found to be extremely anemic. Creatinine is a chemical waste created by metabolizing muscles, which should remain at a constant level from day to day. Pastor Lane, however, was found to have creatinine levels double what they should be. This extreme change in creatinine caused him to suffer an acute kidney failure. At this point, doctors directed Pastor Lane to get more checkups in Billings, Mont.
While in Billings, doctors put him on dialysis. He was able to get up to a 22 percent function level, but was told he did not qualify for a transplant because of his age and previous heart attacks.
But it was those few words in a doctor’s sitting room that changed everything. With Dr. Shannon committed to seeking a kidney transplant, Pastor Lane’s family jumped at the chance to see if they were a viable match to donate a kidney. His wife, daughters and son all spoke up about wanting to donate, but it was his daughter, Susan Hilbers, that would eventually take the journey with her father.
Hilbers is a stay-at-home mom and grandma in Toddville, Iowa. Hilbers describes getting updates on her father from family in McKenzie County as, “Hard. I could only visit every six months and it was always a shock to see him so much worse after that period of time. It was obvious he was going downhill fast.”
It took awhile for Pastor Lane to accept such an option from any of his family members. Hilbers’ husband, Bryan, and children had their reservations as well, especially since she had already agreed to the process before telling them.
“My husband had to think about it for a few days, but realized he would do the same thing for his dad. But it was hard to tell my kids and reassure them that whatever happened I’d be okay,” says Hilbers.
With Hilbers willing to undergo tests to explore her ablity to donate to her father, she and her daughter travelled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Hilbers had been with her mother and father when Pastor Lane had undergone similar tests at the Mayo Clinic so she had an idea of what to expect. But even having experienced it before, the process proved exhausting with three days of running from building to building for tests, questionnaires, and psychological evaluations.
“They put you through the wringer,” says Pastor Lane. “They even give you a backpack because you have so many papers!”
Hilbers turned out to be a four of six match and was approved for donation, but only after a committee of 30 specialists in a variety of fields met three separate times to give Pastor Lane final approval for a transplant.
“I kept waiting for someone to say ‘no,’ but it never came,” relates Hilbers. So they made the trip to Rochester again at the end of October for Pastor Lane and Hilbers to undergo surgery.
Pastor Lane made sure to get to know his doctors during the whole surgery process. Dr. Prieto of Spain and Dr. Casio of Brazil were his surgeon and nephrologist, respectively. Pastor Lane, ever the pastor, asked them if they were Christians, to which they both responded yes. Knowing he was in common company, gave him great courage and reassurance.
While Pastor Lane was being prepped for surgery, his anesthesiologist added another boost of courage for what he was about to undergo. This young doctor told Pastor Lane that he had undergone the very same surgery three months prior. He had just returned to work a week before and Pastor Lane was his first patient.
“It was so encouraging,” describes Pastor Lane.
The surgeries themselves reflected the same encouragement. Hilbers was in and out of surgery in 35 minutes, and in another two hours Pastor Lane’s was completed as well. This father-daughter pair surgeries could not have gone any smoother; Hilbers set a time record and Pastor Lane’s new kidney started producing urine in 30 seconds.
Hilbers was moved to a transplant house a few blocks from the hospital to recover. She was able to get up and walk there a few times a day to check on her father. Hilbers was released three days after surgery and her father left three weeks later. The recovery for both has been tremendous.
“In a week’s time it was like looking at a completely different person,” describes Hilbers. “The twinkle is back in his eye. His mind, body, and soul were brought back to us. We were missing that.”
Pastor Lane has lost pounds of water weight that his old kidneys had not been able to filter out. He describes that the new kidney, “Runs me to death. I have to wear my running shoes now!”
Both Hilbers and Pastor Lane have checkups again in February, but until then Helen Lane is Pastor Lane’s caretaker. She went through a whole training program while at the Mayo Clinic. She learned about the different anti-rejection drugs that Pastor Lane is taking and what signs and symptoms to look for. Lane is the key to addressing drug levels daily and staying in constant communication with the Mayo Clinic. Pastor Lane jokes that she’s been his caretaker for 56 years, so it’s really nothing new.
While Pastor Lane was gone, a fellow retired pastor came in to take care of services. Pastor Lane is so thankful for how supportative and attentive the congregation at First Baptist Church has been throughout the whole process, which made him even more anxious to get back to serving them.
Pastor Lane is already back to working. His church is growing with plans to expand missions into Alexander and Ray and hire more staff. And with his blood pressure and diabetes under control, Pastor Lane feels like he has a new life.
“I can’t remember the last time I felt this good. I have to pinch myself in the morning when I wake up,” says Pastor Lane. “It is so important to know that you’re never too old or worn out. Never give up. For ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”
Hilbers says the whole process was, “very rewarding. It was literally like being a part of a miracle.”
The dedication of the entire Lane family is a testament to the ability of faith, hope, and love to make the impossible possible. Together they were able to not only face difficulty, but change it with an incredible gift of love.