St. Louis priest donates kidney to good friend with kidney disease

By Jean M. Schildz
Catholic News Service

WARRENTON, Mo. (CNS) — Some people give the shirts off their backs to people in need. Father Erich A. Fechner, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Warrenton, gave one of his kidneys.

The successful organ transplant operation took place June 26 at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The kidney recipient was Franciscan Brother Mark Ligett, a friend of Father Fechner’s who has kidney disease. The two met in 1987 at St. Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind.

Hospital spokeswoman Kathy Holleman reported June 27 that the priest was “doing great” and was already up and walking. She said the kidney transplanted into Brother Ligett was functioning and doctors would monitor him closely for the first month or so for signs of rejection.

“The outlook for both patients is excellent,” she added.

Just two years ago, Brother Ligett realized he had kidney disease, after he had been in a car accident . He thought he had fallen asleep at the wheel but it turned out he had fallen into a coma because of renal failure. He lost the use of both his kidneys because of blockages from kidney stones.

Since the accident, he had been searching for a kidney donor. Eleven people volunteered, including Father Fechner. One by one the potential donors were eliminated, leaving only the priest as a perfect match for the organ transplant.

The priest prepared for the surgery like an athlete, researching the topic and losing 60 pounds to be in the best possible shape for the surgery and aftermath.

Prior to the operation he told the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper, that the transplant was in one way reflective of his life as a priest.

“As a priest, I feel like I give my life every day, so in some sense this is in keeping with that,” he said.

The 46-year-old was a chemical engineer before going into the seminary and being ordained in 1992. Tackling tough issues in a logical, methodical manner just seems to be part of his nature.

He learned from his research that if all goes well there should be no change in the life of the kidney donor — no dietary changes, no medicines to take.

“In that sense, it’s no skin off my nose,” he said. “If I were a rugby player, I might have to reconsider my vocation,” he joked.

The priest added that he did not think what he was doing was all that exemplary, especially since a lot of people donate organs to complete strangers.

Brother Ligett called the action a “huge, huge gift,” for himself, his family and his order. After two years of dialysis three days a week, he was overjoyed at the thought of having his life back.

Father Fechner said Brother Ligett had given him so much over the years that the kidney donation was “kind of a no-brainer to give something back to someone who is so healthy he just needs a kidney to complete the picture. I’m very happy about being able to provide him with a better life, an extended life, if it works.”

Brother Ligett, 59, jokingly said that in the event he needs a lung sometime, he has asked Father Fechner to stay close. In response, the priest said, “OK, but I ain’t giving you another kidney.”

Once the date was official, the priest informed his parish what he intended to do with the hope that his action would encourage others to consider becoming donors.

He expected the recovery to take about four to six weeks.

Parishioners deeply admire him for what he is doing, said parish secretary Dolores Rothschild. “We’re just so awestruck with it. It’s something really noble to do.”

Parishioners said they would be keeping both men in their prayers. “We’re hoping it goes well for the both of them,” she said.

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