The story of two believers and a kidney transplant

by Jennifer Bryant, posted Tuesday, March 19, 2002 (21 years ago)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (BP)--Does God provide Christians with signs or does everything just occur by coincidence? Ty Bilderback doesn't believe in coincidence in regards to his recent donation of a kidney to Elizabeth English, 40, who has been diagnosed with a kidney disorder since 1982.

Her disease progressed to the point where her only option was a kidney transplant, but that is not an easy task especially since English has O-negative blood type, which is very rare.

Twenty-eight-year-old Bilderback, who is also O-negative, heard about English's need for a kidney and felt he was supposed to be involved in some way.

"When you take each event in life, it doesn't seem like much," he said. But when he started looking back over several events that had recently taken place in his life, he began thinking, "What is God trying to tell me?"

Looking back, Bilderback firmly believes God was preparing him for this life-saving donation. One sign he considers involves weight loss. He lost 20 pounds without trying. He did not think about it at the time, but now he feels that was God's way of preparing his body.

Bilderback and his wife, Heather, have dogs who are very special to them. They are very much a part of their family. On July 10 of last year, one of their dogs died due to kidney failure. That was devastating to them. On a smaller scale, they saw the symptoms and reality of kidney failure that English would be going through.

Bilderback played professional baseball with the California Angels from 1995-97 after playing for the Razorbacks from 1992-95. Bilderback is originally from southern California while Heather originates from Arkansas. Bilderback said, "Heather couldn't imagine living in Arkansas anymore" after they had lived in California. But they did come back to settle in Arkansas. They could have chosen to live anywhere, but they felt they were supposed to be in Fayetteville. They just did not know why at the time.

Another sign involved the Sunday school class they joined. Bilderback did not want to join any class because he had grown up Catholic and had always felt threatened in Sunday school. But he and Heather ended up joining English and her husband's class. Bilderback really liked English's husband, John's, presentation, and they both "went out of their way to make us feel comfortable" said Bilderback.

So, one day, when Bilderback was on the 10th hole of the golf course with a friend waiting to tee off, his friend mentioned that English was in need of a transplant. Bilderback basically knew right then, he would be the donor. But he kept that decision to himself for awhile.

In the meantime, English had found out on June 4 of last year that she was in renal failure. She and John were in complete shock, she explained. "I thought I would be 60-70 before it happened. We had summer plans."

She said the first verse of many God gave her as comfort was Isaiah 41:10, which begins "Fear not." "That was all I needed to hear," English stated.

The doctor told her she needed to start dialysis, but she did not feel sick. She had been exercising and still doing things she had always done. She and John came to the decision to hold off on dialysis for awhile and just keep exercising and eating right. They sent lab reports to Little Rock and went from there.

English started researching all the promises in the Bible on healing. "I didn't realize there were that many verses," she said. "I knew He was going to heal me."

English and John decided they needed one of two miracles: complete healing or find a donor.

In July, their church, First Baptist Church of Springdale, started praying the Lord would sustain her until a kidney was found. But in October, she started feeling ill and began experiencing severe symptoms of her disease.

On Nov. 5, she went to the doctor to begin dialysis. She had been trying to avoid it, but now she just wanted to feel better, and at the moment, that was all that could make her feel better.

"We were totally at peace. We knew dialysis was the next step," said English. "Even with the challenge of dialysis, God continued giving us promises. There is nothing more powerful than prayer and the Word."

English's father wanted to give her a kidney from day one but discovered he had cancer. "The day he found out he had cancer, Ty called saying he wanted to be my donor," English remembers. "I didn't know what to do. The first thing I thought of was 'Great is thy Faithfulness.'"

English then started the process of approving one of her best friends as a donor. She ended up not being a match. Bilderback called and said he was still willing.

English praises Bilderback for being obedient to God. "He showed a lot of maturity in his spiritual walk," explained English.

"It's (the transplant) changed our lives," said Bilderback. "It's funny, I feel like there's more that I'm supposed to do with this. I just don't know what it is yet."

John believes they have the opportunity to share this gift with others. It is like the essence of what God has done for us. "All we can do is graciously accept His gift," said John. "We've got to tell this story over and over. It's been a blessing."

Bilderback believes God wants Christians to do more. "There are 80,000 people on the kidney donor list, and millions of people in the world," he said. "That is a doable number."

The Englishes and the Bilderbacks felt God's presence through the entire process especially during the hospital stay. They praise their church, friends and family for their prayers.

English felt so good after the surgery. "We had prayed for so much," said English. Just three short hours after the surgery, she got out of bed and walked. She was allowed to go home four days early because she was doing so well.

Heather said everyone was so amazed. "Clearly this was God," she said in response to the quick recovery.

English and John want to especially thank "our small group," their church choir. "They prayed for us constantly," said English. She said she knows of at least three other states where people were praying for her.

"I think it's important that people know this just does not happen," English stated. "It's when people of different denominations come together for one purpose. We've seen in a mighty way what can happen.

"A transplant is one day at a time," said English. "As a believer, that's how we live anyway. Doctors don't give a prognosis on transplants." She explained the first three months is very crucial. But the real breakthrough to a long-term success is after 12 months.

The Englishes also praise the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), the doctors, the nurses and all involved in her transplant. They thought about trying other hospitals in the country, but after meeting with the doctors, they never had another doubt about where they were supposed to have the transplant.

(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at Photo titles: GIFT OF LIFE and CLOSE FRIENDS.

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