DUBUQUE, Iowa (CNS) -- Father Scott Bullock and Christian Brother
Stephen Markham are forever bonded by a kidney transplant a year ago
that has changed both men physically and spiritually.
without a doubt the greatest gift you can give anyone," Brother Markham
said of the donated kidney he received from his priest friend.
The men recently discussed their experience with The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
was a great experience," Father Bullock said. "I jokingly say to
people, 'I highly recommend it,' but I really do. It really was not that
hard and the benefits are so huge."
Despite a major
post-operative complication and a few other issues, both Father Bullock,
54, and Brother Markham, 73, continue to do well.
have more energy than I did for a year or a year and a half before the
surgery," Brother Markham said. "Having been told right before I got on
dialysis that if I didn't get on dialysis I had a very short time to
live, and having been very, very sick at that time, you just look at
"There are things that at one time in my
life would have been a drama, and now it's like, 'We can deal with
this,'" he continued. "The sense of gratitude of things you otherwise
take for granted is just really powerful. I can't say enough how
grateful I am for all the wonderful people, but also, for the wonderful
things in life."
In 2015, Brother Markham, now living in Balltown,
Iowa, was serving in Chicago as director of vocation ministry for his
order and had been appointed vice provincial when he received news his
kidneys were failing. His doctors encouraged him to seek a live donor
after medications did not help.
Before the procedure, he could
barely walk and was drained of energy. He now walks about three miles a
day and has returned to part-time work for his order as director of
temporary professed brothers and postulants. He works out of St. Mary's
University, a Christian Brothers institution in Winona, Minnesota.
March 2015 until the surgery last June, Brother Markham was dependent
on kidney dialysis to survive. A flare-up of chronic glomerilonephritis,
a kidney disease he has had since age 14, caused his organs to fail.
Brother Markham sent word of his need through his religious order,
parish bulletins and even an interview with The Witness. The article
caught Father Bullock's eye.
The priest, now pastor at St. Edward
Parish in Waterloo, became friends with Brother Markham when they served
together from 1999 to 2002 at St. Catherine and St. Donatus parishes in
nearby towns southeast of Dubuque. After completing numerous tests at
the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the priest prayerfully decided
to give a kidney to his friend.
"There's a sublime joy in laying
down yourself and giving of yourself. The more you can do that, the
better life is," Father Bullock said.
On the day of the surgery,
Father Bullock and Brother Markham were in neighboring operating rooms
for a procedure that lasted about two hours. The priest's left kidney
went into the brother's right side.
"I remember amazingly feeling quite calm," Brother Markham said.
feeling changed two days later when he had a heart attack during
another procedure in which medication was being infused directly into
his heart to kick-start his new organ. He was under intensive care for
24 hours afterward.
It is common for a transplanted kidney to take
a few days to activate, but by June 21, five days after the surgery,
Brother Markham's was not yet working, so doctors were planning to put
him through the same procedure that had caused his earlier heart attack.
When Father Bullock learned about the plan, he began to pray for divine
"In my normal prayers, I looked at the calendar of
feast days," the priest said. "The saint of the feast day (June 21) was
St. Aloysius Gonzaga. In reading his biography I discovered that he
himself had suffered from kidney disease. It ended up taking his life
ultimately with other things. Kind of in a moment of desperation I said,
'Aloysius, help us out!'"
On that day, Brother Markham's new
kidney started functioning on its own, preventing the need for the
second risky procedure. Both men acknowledge that it could have been the
medication from the earlier procedure that jump-started the organ, but
they believe the saint's intercession was involved in prompting the
kidney to work.
"Scott gave me a beautiful icon of St. Aloysius
Gonzaga, which now hangs over what I now call my 'pharmacy,'" Brother
Markham said. "It's a desk that has nothing but all my medicines.
Aloysius Gonzaga is right there looking down on the medicines."
Bullock had his own struggles through the course of the surgery and
recovery. His mother had been ill, and died last June 23, shortly after
the transplant. Despite his weakened condition, he flew to his hometown
and celebrated the funeral Mass June 30.
recovered relatively quickly; the avid cyclist was back to riding his
bike within a month. Brother Markham's recovery took longer, about three
months. Both men are thankful for their lives and the doctors, nurses
and many other people that supported them through the transplant
Father Bullock encouraged anyone to consider organ donation.
experience) taught me and reaffirmed my desire to just keep giving," he
said. "It's the way to live fully. Clinging to life and trying to
preserve it and protect it, that's not living. If you give (your life)
away, you're going to be OK. (Organ donation) is a great thing to do
and, I believe, really consistent with our faith."