Young man receives pastor’s kidney, then mom pays it forward

Big Ask, Big Give workshop helps kidney patients look – and ask – for living donors

Mom and son in Sanford Health hospital room

In early 2017, Noah Knudson was a sophomore in high school in Crosby, North Dakota, dealing with a rare kidney disorder.

“The dual diagnosis was vasculitis and IgA,” said Noah, using the shorthand for immunoglobulin A, the antibody affected by the disease. “I was doing an internship and all of the sudden my legs were getting swollen because I was retaining fluid. And my doctor was like, ‘You need to get started doing dialysis.’”

His family and some community members were being tested as potential donors, but no one had matched him just yet.

Guided by faith

A few years prior to the start of Noah’s dialysis, Zach Shipman was finishing seminary school in Dubuque, Iowa. He and his wife decided to go where they were called by faith.

“We checked the ‘Holy Spirit’ box, which says, ‘We will work anywhere. We just want to work,’ and we were sent into northwest North Dakota and we love it.”

So when faith called Pastor Zach to Crosby, and he learned about Noah’s ordeal, he continued to follow the teachings he learned in seminary.

“It’s a reading from 1 John 3:16-17 and it says, ‘We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need, and refuses to help?’” Shipman read, his voice catching in his throat as he became emotional.

Pastor Zach was a match. Noah and his family, including his mother, Becky Knudson, were ecstatic.

New organs, new life: Transplant surgery at Sanford Health

“My heart just like leaped out of my body almost because I was just like, ‘Wow! Pastor Zach is actually going forward,’” said Becky.

“All of the sudden you get a call and the transplant is going to be September 17, 2017, and … that’s a big phone call,” said Noah, fighting back tears. “It’s very, very important, yeah … I hate to use the word ‘stranger’ at this point because I know him so well now, but you know, I didn’t know him all too well, and all of the sudden he comes in and just helps me and he kind of gave me my life back.”

Paying it forward

The procedure went perfectly. Noah is now 23 years old and living a normal life. Pastor Zach remains in Crosby with his family and is no worse for wear. But the story doesn’t end there.

Inspired by the gift her pastor gave to her son, and wanting to help someone in need, Becky decided that she would become an altruistic kidney donor herself.

“Watching Noah go from his health standpoint to going to the restaurant and ordering anything he wanted to order, and swimming in the lake, and going out hunting, you know, … if there’s somebody sitting in that dialysis chair that I can help get out of that dialysis chair, I need to do it,” said Becky. “Like what Pastor Zach said, it’s what we’re called to do and it just felt right.”

Now the Knudsons are helping to promote the Big Ask, Big Give initiative to help kidney patients ask others to be living donors and teach altruistic volunteers about what that entails.

On Sunday, March 14, Sanford is participating in a virtual workshop for patients needing kidneys and those interested in donating a kidney and saving even more lives. Topics will include how to ask someone to be a living donor, the process to determine a match, making the decision to donate, the risks, resources and how to donate.

Trying to save even more lives

“The outcomes are better with living donations,” said Melissa Erickson, Sanford director of case management, nephrology and transplant services. “Not all friends and family might be a match, so the more people they have willing to come forward and go through this screening process, it’s going to increase their likelihood of getting a kidney.”

For their part, the Knudsons and their honorary family member Zach Shipman, couldn’t endorse the program any more.

“It is a big ask and it is a big thing to do,” said Shipman. “I think you’ve got two kidneys for a reason and so I want to encourage people and allay some of the fears.”

Becky encourages people to learn more.

“It’s not for everyone, but it was right for me,” said Becky. “You can always step back and maybe it might not be now. It might be later. But finding information out and learning more about it will help you understand the process and give you confidence and the ability to decide whether it’s something that you might want to consider.”

For Noah, his entire life has changed, but it’s the simple things that still provide wonder.

“I’ll wake up in the morning … sun shining … I get to go drink a cup of coffee on my porch. I look out and like, it’s a pretty good life I have now that I got this, you know?” said Noah. “I can be free and do ten times, 100 times more things now that I got a transplant.”

Thanks to Pastor Zach, Noah has a new lease on life. With Big Ask, Big Give, others in need will soon have it as well.

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Posted In Dialysis, Fargo, Organ Donation, Transplant

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