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Fr. Grinnell donates a kidney to a stranger in need

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Father Horace H. “Tuck” Grinnell was leafing through a magazine when an article about kidney donation caught his eye. The retired pastor of St. Peter Church in Washington didn’t know anyone who needed a kidney, but he knew that donating his would better the life of a stranger for years to come. So he prayed about it and researched the process online. “If I have two good kidneys, then why shouldn’t I share?” he said. “It would give someone a wonderful life.”

Right now, there are 99,570 people nationwide on the kidney waiting list, and 2,125 of them are Virginians, said Dr. Jennifer Verbesey of Medstar Georgetown Transplant Institute in Washington. Waiting for a kidney isn’t easy. “Most people are on dialysis. You have to go to a dialysis center at least three times a week and you get hooked up to the machine for anywhere between three and five hours,” said Verbesey. “It’s very difficult to work, it’s very difficult to travel.”

Receiving a kidney is truly life changing, said Verbesey. “After a transplant, people can live longer and have a much better quality of life,” she said. “It gives someone back the life that they are hoping to lead.” However, the number of people who need kidneys vastly outnumbers the people willing or able to donate them. 

As Father Grinnell explored the possibility of donation, he was put through a variety of tests — a blood test, an X-ray, an MRI, a stress test, a colonoscopy and others. Though he wondered if he would pass at age 73, doctors deemed he was fit to donate. So they asked when he might be free to have his organ extracted. He looked at his calendar and chose November. “I showed up, they whipped the kidney out and you go home the next day,” he said with a laugh. 

Father Grinnell spent the last few weeks in recovery, which he says is going smoothly. Though he’s down a kidney, his health shouldn’t be too impacted by the donation. Besides avoiding certain medications that are processed in the kidneys, “there was no instruction, ‘don't do x, y or z,’ except in the healing process,” he said. According to the American Kidney Fund, on average, donors have a 25-35 percent permanent loss of kidney function due to the removal of one of their kidneys, but the risk of kidney failure in the remaining kidney later in life is not any higher.


“I would encourage people to consider it because there’s no pressure,” said Father Grinnell, who served as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington (1986-94, 2010-14) and pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church (1994-2010). “At every step along the way they said if you do not want to continue, just don’t do anything. They won’t let you do it unless you pass the tests.”

Father Grinnell doesn’t know who received his kidney and unless the recipient asks, he or she won’t know Father Grinnell’s identity either. “I didn’t want whoever got it to feel like they just inherited a brother-in-law or something,” he said. “If it worked for them, they could be thankful for a kidney as if it dropped from heaven.”

The one thing he does know is that his right kidney was shipped to California. “I like to imagine some surfer dude or surfer gal is out on the Pacific Ocean with my kidney,” he said. “Or maybe, who knows, my kidney’s going to win an Academy Award.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020