The greatest gift

GREENFIELD — Danny Curry still cries.

He looks at his daughter — healthy, happy, growing so fast she’ll catch her mom before long — and he cries.

He could weep for the past year, for the hospital stays and moments of uncertainty, for the days he looked into that sick little girl’s eyes and dared to imagine life without her.

But these are tears of joy, of relief, of thankfulness for the faith that walked the Currys through the deepest emotional valley they have known.

Last week, the Currys celebrated the one-year anniversary of a kidney transplant that saved Katie Curry’s life, a transplant that came from her father. Today, the checkups are fewer and farther between, and Katie, 11, dashes through their Greenfield home alongside little brother Caleb with a burst of energy that for so many months was absent.

It’s a story that has impacted not only her family’s faith but her father’s ministry.

Danny Curry, minister at Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield, tells his daughter’s story not to prove God answers prayers.

Her healing, he told his congregation on a recent Sunday morning, might not have occurred on earth.

His voice grew strained as he gave voice to the reality before the hundreds who had prayed for her recovery: Katie might very well have died.

The message, he said, is not to expect God to hand you a miracle.

It’s that in your darkest moments, there is light.

It is hope.

Covered in prayer

It’s been more than two years since the saga began, the worry over what was wrong with the little girl who kept getting sick.In the summer of 2013, Danny and Jen Curry took their daughter to see a specialist, suspecting food allergies. But a CT scan revealed a mass in her chest, a mass doctors would later learn was her enlarged heart, which swelled along with her blood pressure as she inched toward kidney failure.That September, doctors removed one kidney. Nine months later, as her remaining organ failed, they started the search for a donor, a search that ended with her dad.

The Currys spent Christmas last year at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, recovering from a transplant they praised God went smoothly.

In the weeks that followed, family and friends nursed two Currys back to health. And a loving congregation covered them all in prayer.

For Katie, the next six months were spent learning how to do everything possible to keep her kidney healthy.

She memorized her medicine schedule, committed to drinking three liters of water a day.

She delighted in the little things. Eating pickles, macaroni — favorites that had been off-limits during a restrictive diet she followed before the surgery.

She learned her limitations — surprisingly, they are few.

Sitting at the kitchen table on a recent afternoon, she ticked off the fruits she cannot eat because they interact with her anti-rejection medicine: pomegranate, grapefruit, starfruit.

A shy smile crept across her face.

“I know I’m not allowed to play football,” she added.

A dramatic recovery

Katie’s parents watched as their daughter’s color returned following her transplant. After missing 100 days, she went back to school last spring.Academically, she hadn’t missed a beat of fifth grade, keeping on the all-A honor roll with the help of teachers who came to the house and tutored her during her recovery. But to be back among her friends was a defining step toward normalcy.Danny Curry kept his church family posted every step of the way, with some updates coming on Sunday mornings and far more coming the rest of the week via social media.

The congregation celebrated every milestone and grieved every setback.

While Katie’s condition improved dramatically following her surgery, there were obstacles to come.

Last fall, Danny Curry fell unexpectedly ill. It felt like a bad case of indigestion at first; he thought with some time and rest, he’d get better.

On Oct. 12, he pushed aside thoughts of his symptoms. He was supposed to officiate a wedding that day. And he did.

But that night, he was in the emergency room, doubled over in pain. An exam revealed complications from the transplant, almost 10 months after the surgery.

Over time, Danny Curry had developed scar tissue near the incision, and the tissue adhered to his intestine.

The complication is exceedingly rare, members of the transplant team told him, citing only a couple of cases in their years of experience.

A familiar feeling of helplessness returned. The recovery from that surgery was twice as difficult as the first.

Staying positive

Today, he has a foot-long scar from where doctors went in to repair the damage.He looks at his daughter and shrugs it off.“If I had to go through two surgeries in order for her to be this healthy, I’m OK with that.”

The kidney won’t last forever; the Currys have known that since the beginning. The doctors’ best guess is 20, 30, maybe 40 years.

Eventually, Katie will start showing the same symptoms she did before. Doctors will run tests and discover the kidney her father gave her will meet the same end as the one she was born with.

Her parents hope that day is years — decades — away.

Meanwhile, it’s easy to get scared every time Katie comes down with a bug.

Of Katie’s two parents, her mom admits she is the worrier.

‘Borrowing trouble’

Signs a transplant recipient’s body is rejecting the organ are similar to common illness — chills, fever, body aches and nausea.“When she gets sick, even if it’s really small, I have to talk myself down from the ledge,” Jen Curry said. “She has a little cough, and I have to remind myself: ‘This is OK.’”Sometime the family will go through it all again. Just the thought is daunting. But they’ve learned something these past few years; getting through a crisis is as much about attitude as anything.

Worrying about the day that kidney will fail? That’s just borrowing trouble, Danny Curry said.

“Being grateful is a choice,” he said. “You can be grateful even when the world’s falling apart.”

Last week, they shared their gratitude with the team of doctors who provided the care. They delivered words of thanks and plates of frosted kidney-shaped cookies, laughing when some of the kidneys fell apart. A kidney that’s not quite right feels kind of appropriate, after all.

Holding on to hope

Every Sunday morning, Danny Curry stands before hundreds of worshipers and shares what is on his heart. He shares the Bible, whatever message God moves him to relate and tales of life in the Curry house.It is the kind of ministering his parishioners say makes a congregation feel more like a family.

Those who followed the Currys’ journey say their courage through crisis inspired them — to be prayerful and to find peace in their own struggles. It didn’t just change the Currys, they say. It changed them all.

Sharing their message

On a recent Sunday, Katie joined her father on the stage.That morning’s message focused on finding hope, believing God will send a river to your wasteland.Danny Curry gazed up as a photo of his daughter, taken a year ago, flashed on the screen. She lay in a hospital bed.

His wasteland.

“My God, my God — why have you forsaken me?” He quoted the Scripture that became the cry of two parents whose child was dying before them.

They prayed for a miracle, for healing without a transplant.

But they came to find miracles are often more nuanced.

Living just 30 minutes from a hospital renowned for its care of critically ill children, that was a miracle. The skill of her doctors, nothing short of one.

And so, over time, a more familiar prayer found their lips: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

This Christmas, the Currys are remembering that message.

The Lord is their shepherd. They have everything they need.

Gift of life

A donation from a live donor can spare a patient in need years on the transplant list, waiting and hoping for a matching organ from someone who has died. Donors can donate to someone they know or participate in a “non-directed” donation, which goes to an anonymous recipient.

What can be donated?

A number of organs or partial organs can be donated by living donors, including a kidney, lobe of a lung, a portion of the intestine, liver or pancreas.

Who can donate an organ?

Generally speaking, anyone healthy between the ages of 18 and 60 can be a potential donor. Race and gender are not factors in compatibility; blood and tissue type are.

How is a match determined?

Living donors must undergo a battery of tests to determine compatibility; these include blood tests to identify blood and tissue type as well as perform antibody screens; X-rays to screen for heart and lung disease; and psychological screenings to make sure the donor understand the implications of the process.

What does the donor pay?

Costs of the living donor’s evaluation and operation are customarily paid for through the recipient’s insurance. Several funds have been establish to cover the cost if insurance is not available. These include the Transplant Centers Organ Acquisition Fund and National Living Donor Assistance Fund. Other costs associated with the process, such as lost wages, travel and lodging, are not covered.

Source: Transplantliving.org, American Transplant Foundation

Author photo
Noelle Steele is editor of the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3232 or nsteele@greenfieldreporter.com.