November 5, 2015

Creative Nonfiction Memoir By Amy Gray-Cunningham: "Daring to Believe, Amy’s Memoir as a Living Kidney Donor"

Amy Gray-Cunningham is an author, speaker, blogger and freelance/virtual assistant. She's lived in Charlotte, NC for over 30-years where she met and eventually married her high school sweetheart, Chuck Cunningham on September 26, 2009. Together they have two (almost grown) sons – Alex, 21 and Chase, 20.
Amy is a living kidney donor and is writing her first novel – Daring to Believe, Amy’s Memoir as a Living Kidney Donor, which she plans to have published in 2016.

  "Daring to Believe, Amy’s Memoir as a Living Kidney Donor"

The DJ queued the music, and all eyes darted to the back of the room. Dressed in an off-white lace gown with flowers in her hair from her mother’s wedding veil, Mallory appeared in the doorway.

A graceful swan streaming through the water, Mallory glided by me on the arm of her father. Tears flooded my eyes as I watched her father tall, strong and alive beaming with love and admiration for the little girl who captured his heart many years ago.

With a grateful heart, David Ensley gave his beloved daughter’s hand in marriage to the second man she loved the most. For both David and Mallory, however, this day was even more special. Five years ago, David was suffering from polycystic disease, and dying of renal failure. For Mallory, her wedding day was a dream that most likely wouldn’t include her father until her Aunt Jennifer, desperate for a miracle, turned to social media.

Jennifer Ensley Scoggins created a Facebook page, Looking for a Kidney for My Brother David, in hopes of finding a donor match for David. Neither Jennifer nor their older brother, Randy, were eligible donors, and other family members were not a match. But Jennifer never gave up hope. She believed God would provide a miracle.

Here is how our story began and turned into a miracle.  

On an ordinary day, I saw my brother and his family after work. They lived in a townhouse behind us. I cooked dinner—just an everyday normal routine. But that day altered my life forever.

As I cleaned the kitchen after dinner, Chuck, my husband, called to me from the living room. “Honey, do you remember Jennifer Ensley from high school?”

I thought about it and said, “Nope. Doesn’t ring a bell. Should I?”

“We all went to East Mecklenburg together,” he replied like it was supposed to make a difference to me. I peered from the kitchen and shook my head at him.

“Well, I’m sure you’d remember her if you ever saw her again. Randy, her brother, got me the job at the Speedway as a security guard.”

“Oh yeah!” I still didn’t remember her or her brother, but I did remember that job. I hated that job. Because of it, he wasn’t around for my birthday. The Coca-Cola 600 was the second week in May along with my birthday.

Chuck and I were high school sweethearts but didn’t marry until September 26, 2009. I always knew we would marry one day, and I told him that even back then. I just never thought it would take me twenty years to get him down the aisle.

Neither one of us, however, remembered the reason we broke up in high school. But I have a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with the blonde girl I saw him with at a restaurant not long afterward.

We reconnected on Facebook twenty years later. I found him on the East Mecklenburg High School Twenty-Year Reunion page for the class of 1989. I sent him a friend request, and we’ve been together ever since.

When we met the first time after many years, it was as if we had never separated. I called to ask him to help a friend of mine, who had to move out of the house she and her husband shared. Chuck graciously dropped everything and said he would be there—no questions asked. Our first “date” in twenty years and he moved furniture that wasn't even mine.

When our eyes met, it felt like the first time we locked eyes many years before. We were older with more wrinkles and more baggage, but he still had the same smile that stopped my heart and those deep brown eyes that cut straight through to my soul. At that moment, I knew Chuck was my soulmate and always had been.

Later on, we discovered our lives shared many points of intersection throughout the years.  Like a kismet universe, it had been pulling on the strings of our lives, keeping us close to one another so that we wouldn’t forget.

For several years, we both worked in one of the bank buildings in uptown at the same time. We were on separate floors and employed by different companies, but we never ran into each other on the elevators or even in the coffee shop on the main level. After that, we worked in adjacent buildings in another local complex and again, never bumped into each other even in the parking lot.

But probably the biggest surprise of all was when we discovered we had lived only a few hundred feet from each other— and never knew it. From my garage, I had an excellent view of Chuck’s patio, though I didn’t know it was his at the time.

Also, our boys knew each other from junior high school, though Chase was a year younger than Alex. But they rode the same bus together and knew of each other. They even looked similar—tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and both were born in June almost one year apart.

God’s ways are miraculous to me. He knew when Chuck and I dated in high school we were perfect for each other. We just needed more refining before He brought us back together. But He kept our lives parallel throughout the years as if to keep us forever connected. God waited on the sidelines just tapping His toes for the right time.  

I sometimes wonder if Chuck and I hadn’t reconnected, would I have met David or heard about his story? Chuck had been long-time friends with David’s sister, Jennifer, and his older brother, Randy. Because of this connection, I found out about David’s need for a kidney.

“What does Jennifer Ensley have to do with anything?” I asked snapping myself back.

“She started a Facebook page called, ‘Looking for a Kidney for My Brother David’,” he said. Interesting, I thought.

Chuck continued telling me that David, the middle child, had married his high school sweetheart, Susanne. They had two girls, Mallory, who was in nursing school, and Leslie, a senior in high school. Diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, in 2002 David was in complete renal failure and on dialysis but would eventually die if he didn’t receive a kidney transplant soon, which was the reason Jennifer created the Facebook page.

My heart broke for those girls and his wife. I lost my father several years back, and I knew first hand the pain of losing a parent. I would give anything to have my dad back.

“Wow,” I said, “how sad. I hope someone steps up to help him.”

Then I heard it, as clear and audible as if I were talking with someone right in front of me. He said, “Amy, that person will be you.”  It sounded like a soft whisper in my mind. Then an intense tingling sensation ran down my spine and burned within my soul. Instantaneously, I knew I would be David’s donor.

I remember looking around the kitchen and screaming in my mind, “Um, excuse me? WHAT did you say?” Where did that voice come from? I wondered.  I’d heard about people hearing things from God, but I never considered it would happen to me, much less in the middle of my kitchen cleaning up after dinner. God does have a unique sense of humor.

Although I have “felt” things before I knew in my heart were from God, I’d never actually heard Him, as if in conversation. The voice didn’t sound like “His” voice—if, in fact, He does have an actual voice. It sounded like my tone and inflection, yet somehow I knew God spoke directly to me.  

I was young in my faith, but my trust in God continued to grow. I had recently been praying asking God to use me for His purpose, but donating a body part I thought was too much to ask. Wasn’t it?

Instead of telling Chuck, or anyone for that matter, I decided not to share my new revelation, at least not yet.  Afraid he would think I was one kind of crazy–too much for him–and would want to send me to the proverbial ditch that he often jokes with me about, I kept quiet. Besides, I wasn’t too sure about what had just happened myself.

As the days passed, I couldn’t get David’s story and what I heard that night out of my mind. Several times, I secretly logged into Chuck’s Facebook account so I could follow Jennifer’s updates on her page. When I read that David was O+, I decided it was time to complete a donor application. I, too, was O+.

Telling Chuck about my decision, however, was more complicated than I anticipated. At dinner, I told him about my desire to get tested as David’s donor.  Exasperated, he assumed I had finally lost it.

“Honey I’ve been thinking, and I want to get tested to see if I’m a match for David Ensley.”

Chuck looked up at me from his dinner plate with a glaring eye and said, “You what?”

“I admit it’s crazy.”

“Crazy?” he interrupted.

Glaring at him, I continued, “I feel I’m being led to do this. Besides, the chances I would be a match are slim. But I know it’s something I’m supposed to do.”

Dropping his fork to his plate, Chuck pushed back his chair and questioned, “And what makes you think this is something you’re SUPPOSED to do?”

I had already decided it best not to tell him, yet, I heard God talking to me, telling me I was the one. Instead I said, “I haven’t been able to get his story out of my mind. It’s all I can think about. I even went on your Facebook page to follow Jennifer’s posts.”

Irritated, he said, “YOU DID WHAT?” annunciating each syllable.

“Oh come on,” I replied, sipping my wine, “You gave me your password before, and it’s not like I haven’t done it in the past. I wanted to follow what Jennifer posted, but I didn’t want to like the page yet. I logged into your account to read it, and the most recent post said, David is O+ and Chuck, I’m O+. For me, it was a clear sign.”

“Who cares? That doesn’t mean you need to do this,” he said, looking stricken.

“You said it yourself yesterday, if someone doesn’t step up, he could die. He has two daughters, and if I can help him to dance with his daughters at their weddings, I want to—no, need to—do this. Besides, I’ve been researching kidney donation, and if for whatever reason I needed a kidney in the future, then I move to the top of the donor list for a new one.”

“But what if Alex or Chase needs a kidney? Have you thought about how would you feel if you weren’t able to give them one because you gave one to someone you don’t know?” he asked.

I looked into Chuck’s eyes and grabbed his hand, “I just have to believe and have faith God will provide for them. I can’t decide not to do this based on something that may or may not happen in the future. How selfish would I be?”

Chuck looked away—not because he didn’t have anything more to say, he just knew it would be pointless. He relented and the next day I called the Transplant Clinic to request an application.

As it turned out, David and I were a 1-in-20 million match. We were such a close match that we should’ve been siblings and, as a result, he takes minimal anti-rejection drugs now. We lived less than twenty miles from each other but were strangers. My kidneys functioned at such a high level that with only one kidney it functioned like someone with two.

After countless testing and hard but loving conversations with family and friends, on July 6, 2009, I donated my kidney to David Ensley. God used me to save his life, a man whom up until this point I had never met.

Lives were changed that day. My faith was strengthened, and miracles flourished. People from all over the world heard about our story and were inspired to believe in God and His Grace. Families were united, and almost five years later a father danced with his daughter on her wedding day.

I’m not saying that I’m more special or favored than anyone else but because I willingly listened to God’s calling on my life and acted in obedience, He blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. Throughout the entire experience, my faith was strengthened, even when I didn’t understand what was going on. I knew God was in charge and that He was a God of healing and restoration. I trusted Him to work everything out for His purpose.

At one point, I was denied as David’s donor by his doctor. The MRI revealed that I had two small arteries on the top of both my kidneys, which was extremely rare. David’s doctor wasn’t sure if he would be able to reconnect the small artery, and if he couldn’t how much kidney function would be lost as a result. He thought it would be best for David to continue dialysis and wait for another donor. God, however, thought differently.

We found out about the denial on a Friday afternoon. The following Monday, Jennifer, her husband, Sean, and Chuck, and I attended a healing service at my church. We had already previously planned to attend and decided we needed to, even with the disappointing news. David was getting worse and couldn’t be there because he was dying.

Several people laid hands on Jennifer and me while praying over us. I don’t remember what was said, but I do remember the feeling of complete peace that surpassed all understanding. We left there that night confident God would heal David. Three days later I received a call that his doctor suddenly changed his mind and approved me as David’s donor.

I’ve experienced no side effects from the donation, and my life proceeds as normal. David on the other hand, he now has a future. God healed him completely. He no longer suffers from kidney disease or renal failure. As expected, the doctor wasn’t able to reattach the small artery at the top of the kidney but it didn’t matter. Ellie Mae, as we affectionately named her, fully functions within his body!

I thank God for using me to heal David. I will forever be grateful that He allowed me to be a part of such a wonderful miracle.

God is good! God is faithful! God heals!

~Amy Gray-Cunningham

Total Pageviews