Matt Creemens went on Facebook looking for a babysitter and ended up donating a kidney.
The 47-year-old Springfield computer programmer and married father of four was looking for a teenager from his church to watch his kids. As he perused various social media posts, he came across a link concerning the health challenges being faced by one of his church’s pastors.
Steve Patzia, co-lead pastor at Cherry Hills Church, was born with a rare kidney disease and found himself nearing organ failure in 2019.
“It was strange; I found myself staring at that page, and I couldn’t make my hand move. The Holy Spirit was leading me. It is a difficult thing to describe,” Creemens said, “but I not only felt compelled to move forward but also was very much at peace.”
The two men, who are both in their 40s, did not know each other particularly well.
“I don’t remember ever speaking with Steve one-on-one before this,” Creemens said. “But, I listened to his sermons, so we had that connection.”
When he began the donation process, Creemens underwent several medical tests to see if his kidney would be a good match for Patzia. But, he didn’t inform his pastor that he was having the test done or contemplating being a donor.
“I kept taking tests, and I kept proving to be a good match. Finally, the doctors said I needed to tell Steve.”
Creemens’ inspiration to donate a kidney came from the words of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke.
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none.”
Creemens said he believed that admonition could apply as easily to someone with two kidneys as it does to someone with a pair of shirts.
Patzia said he was shocked when Creemens made the offer.
“I just knew that he had called the church and scheduled a private meeting with me,” Patzia said. “I didn’t know what it was about—but I wasn’t looking forward to it.”
Creemens laughed in recalling that he thought the meeting might cause concern for Patzia.
“When someone wants to meet in private with the pastor, a lot of times it’s about something really bad,” Creemens said, “so, I think I took him a bit off guard.”
April is Donate Life Month in the United States. The two men illustrate the need and generosity present in today’s transplant network. State and health officials said the need for organ donors remains high.
In August 2019, Patzia and Creemens underwent their surgeries at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
“Some of my earliest memories were of being in the hospital at the University of Minnesota. This disease is something I had lived with my entire life,” Patzia said. “When I woke up from surgery, I remember thinking, ‘So this is what normal feels like.’”
Almost immediately after surgery, Patzia’s pallor gained a healthy glow; debilitating muscle cramps disappeared; and urinary issues became normal.
“The biggest thing I noticed was that I wasn’t tired all the time,” Patzia said. “Before the surgery, I needed 12 or 13 hours of sleep every day. After the surgery, I could get by with a normal seven or eight hours.”
Creemens was released from the hospital after just one day.
“I was ready to go back to work about after two weeks,” he said. “I ran a half marathon a few months after surgery.”
Patzia, who has two children with his wife, Peggy, recovered at home over four months. When he returned to the pulpit, the congregation gave him and Creemens a standing ovation.
“They were celebrating being part of something bigger, and that is what the church is all about,” Patzia said. “We’re all about community. We’re all about loving each other, supporting one another. That’s something Cherry Hills is amazing at doing, not just for their pastor, but for whomever’s going through a difficult time or a difficult situation.”
Patzia said he found spiritual significance in the transplant.
“Somebody who’s willing to literally take the risk to give their kidney for the sake of another helped me see the cross in a whole new light,” he said. “Jesus is not only willing to give a kidney, but gave his entire body so that we may have a new life. In the same way, Matt gave his kidney so that I could have new life.”
Of the 18,000 individuals who donated organs in the United States in 2020, about 6,000 were living donors, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
The need for organ donors remains great, according to Dr. Marc Garfinkel, head of the kidney transplant program at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.
“One metric is that there are nationwide approximately 100,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant right now,” Garfinkel said, “and there are only approximately 21,000 kidney transplants done every year. And, the rate of additions to the waiting list outpaces the number of organ transplants.”
Illinois is a leader when it comes to enrolling individuals to become potential organ donors, according to Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office administers the state’s donor registry.
“I learned more about this program being the secretary of state than I did being a state lawmaker,” White said. “I realized that an individual can get a second chance at life or they can improve the quality of someone’s life if they step up and say, ‘Yes, I want to give this person a second chance at life. I want to give them an organ that will allow them to live a long and productive life.’”
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.