Tears flowed between Melissa Calongne and Sharon Robert as the news was shared.
Calongne was a kidney donor match for Robert, clearing the way for the ultimate gift.
Robert, who suffers from genetic PKD, or Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease, learned recently that she would need a kidney transplant. She is in Stage 4 of PKD, and in Stage 5 dialysis is necessary. The Norco woman was put on the kidney transplant waiting list, but the timeframe was problematic – the estimated wait time to receive a kidney from being on the list is five to seven years.
Thus, Robert, 57, was advised to try to find a living donor of her own, which she knew was easier said than done. She wrote about her plight on social media and word spread from there.
Calongne, of St. Rose, learned of Robert’s situation and it left an impact on her. The two knew one another after spending time together at a St. Charles Borromeo church retreat two years ago, and they’ve kept in touch since then.
“We formed a bond,” Calongne said. “When you go on these retreats, you’re pretty open for the most part … you share things, things that brought you to where you are in your faith journey. She was the one person I really kept in touch with throughout the past couple of years.”
Calongne also knew Robert was suffering from the illness and that it would ultimately necessitate a transplant, though neither knew when that would be until recently.
“I knew she was going to eventually need a kidney,” said Calongne. “So, when I heard the news that the time had come for that … I prayed about it, and there was just no question. (Donating a kidney) is what I needed to do.
“We say it’s part of God’s plan, and that’s really just kind of the way it happened. I kept praying and saying, ‘How can I serve you today?’ And I knew I had to go see if I was a match.”
Robert said she feels overwhelming gratitude for Calongne’s sacrifice. Not only that, but Calongne’s confidence in her decision also brings Robert tremendous peace.
“She contacted me after I posted about it … she said she felt a calling,” Robert said. “And she wasn’t fearful at all. She had a certain peace about her … she called to tell me she was a match and I was so, so happy and excited. And she told me, ‘Sharon, I’m not surprised.’ She really felt this was God’s will.”
Her confidence was such that, even before receiving the official word she was a match, she told Robert she believed that news was coming.
“I said, ‘I know we haven’t gotten the results yet, but I feel like I’m a match,’” Calongne said. “And that was the case … I’m not a family member. We really just sat next to each other at a retreat and got to know each other. But I just knew it … and I just needed confirmation (that she was a match).”
She was steadfast in the decision, even in the face of some doubts from others.
“You hear, ‘Well, what if something happens to you, where you need a new kidney?’ Well, then I’m up there at the top of the transplant list because I’m a donor. Or they ask, ‘What if you change your mind?’ That’s not an option. When you pray about things and it comes to life, and you feel it, you’re not changing your mind … I would have been very disappointed if I wasn’t a match,” Calongne said.
PKD runs in Robert’s family, which may not come as surprise because it is described as a genetic illness. But her family has been hit particularly hard from it. Those with PKD stand a 50 percent chance of passing it on to a child, but despite that statistic, Robert and each of her four siblings have it passed down from their father, who lost his life to the illness. Two of her siblings have already gone through successful transplants, her sister now 10 years past the surgery.
The illness has taken things from her. Robert was a teacher’s assistant at Mimosa Park Elementary School, a position she took on after helping out and substituting at St. Charles Borromeo and Sacred Heart, an experience that made her realize how much she enjoyed working with the children. She had to resign from the position due to her health. Getting exercise is also problematic -even talking a walk can be a struggle.
But she’s remained positive, and one reason for that is she maintained faith that someone would arrive to help – and she says she could never have asked for a better donor.
“I believed that God would send the right person at the right time, and I have no doubt Melissa is the right person,” Robert said.