Taunton man thankful for fellow
parishioner’s kidney donation

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

EAST TAUNTON, Mass. — There were many reasons for Joe Vincent to be thankful during the recent Thanksgiving holiday.

Not least of which, he was surrounded by his family, including his two sons who hadn’t been together with him since the previous Christmas.


But, even more importantly, he had recently been given a new lease on life thanks to the selfless and generous actions of Sarah Parker, a fellow parishioner at Holy Family Church in East Taunton.

Having heard that Vincent was suffering from kidney disease and was in dire need of a transplant, Parker agreed to donate one of her organs to him after learning that she was a perfect match.

“I’ve struggled and I continue to struggle putting it into words just how amazing it was and what a difficult decision it was for her and how much I appreciate what she’s done for me,” Vincent recently told The Anchor. “It’s incredibly difficult and humbling to ask someone for help, but you know, you do what you have to do.”

Having been diagnosed with something known as thin basement membrane disease in 1983, Vincent has been living with kidney issues for the past 30 years. But his disease progressed to a point where he became a candidate for a transplant in the fall of 2017.

Although the most logical choice for a donor would have been a family member, Vincent said his wife, Nancy, also suffered from a different kidney ailment and was disqualified. Likewise, his two sons would be genetically disposed to similar kidney problems and couldn’t be considered either.

“We had to look outside the family,” Vincent said. “My wife put it out on Facebook and on the parish Facebook page and (then-pastor) Father Kevin Cook announced it and, lo and behold, that’s where the donor came from. Who would have thought that it would be one of my fellow parishioners who was willing to step up? And someone who typically sits with her family either in the row in front of us, or the row right behind us?”

Parker remembers going to Mass on the Sunday after Christmas last year and seeing Joe and his family leaving after the 9 a.m. Liturgy.

“We usually go to the 10:30 Mass and we would always pass each other and on that particular Sunday I saw Joe and I looked at him and happened to notice that he didn’t look well,” Parker told The Anchor. “That kind of stuck with me. About a month later, there was a post in our bulletin that said there was a parishioner in need of a kidney donor and had stage-four kidney disease. I said to my husband: I know who it is.”

Parker wasn’t sure how she knew, but she felt she needed to help. She thought about it and prayed over it and even did a little research into how the Catholic Church felt about organ donations.

“The first article that came up was by Pope Francis and basically what he said was an organ donation is a testament of love for your neighbor,” she said. “And it just struck me. So the next day I did the online survey for Beth Israel for the transplant center and I put in to be a donor.”

Not wanting to disappoint anyone, Parker only confided in her husband about the application process. She wanted to see if she was a match before telling anyone else.

“I had that feeling that something was telling me that I had to do this, and I always had the feeling that I was going to be a match and it turned out I was,” she said.

“I had no idea that Sarah had even contacted the transplant center,” Vincent said. “Sarah chose to do it quietly and not tell me until she finally got the word that she had been approved. I was shocked to say the least.”

After several trips to various doctors’ appointments in Boston, Parker was indeed deemed to be a perfect match and she was scheduled to meet for the first time with the kidney surgeon on July 10.

“I had to do a final DNA test, just to make sure that it would be OK,” she said. “The nurse coordinator said that the next day, which was Wednesday, July 11, that the entire team would get together and that’s when they would review any potential donors and approve them.”

When Parker didn’t hear anything, she confessed she “was a little disappointed.”

But that night, before going to bed, she decided to check her emails and saw something from a Catholic website about why Catholics wear the St. Benedict medal that caught her attention.

“Years ago, when Father Jay Maddock was our pastor (at Holy Family Parish), I had received a St. Benedict medal from him, so I was interested,” Parker said. “As I read it, it said that today was the feast of St. Benedict and it went on to say that St. Benedict is the patron saint of people with kidney disease. I stopped and turned my laptop to my husband and he read it and he said: ‘I think they made the decision today.’”

Sure enough, the next day Parker received an email saying she had been approved as Joe’s kidney donor — on July 11, the feast of St. Benedict, the patron saint of people with kidney disease.

“I was just overwhelmed,” Parker said. “From the very beginning, I always felt that God was watching over Joe and I’m just so humbled because I know that it was definitely God Who opened my heart to do this and to follow through. And it is things like this that definitely showed me that.”

Two days later, on July 13, Parker and her husband Brian made arrangements with Father Kevin Cook to meet with Joe and his wife Nancy at the rectory to share the good news.

Vincent had spent the day working with other parishioners to do some renovation work, recovering the kneelers inside the church. So he didn’t know why Father Cook had asked them to come to the rectory.

“When I walked in and saw them there, I was speechless,” he said. “I had no idea what this was about.”

“I really kept it a secret because I didn’t want to give anyone false hope if I wasn’t a match, so I told no one,” Parker said. “So they had no idea when they walked into that room what I was going to tell them. I can honestly tell you that Joe was speechless and Nancy cried. But they were happy tears.”

The transplant surgeries were performed on October 9 at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Both procedures were a resounding success and despite a minor complication with some medication, Vincent has been recuperating well.

“The kidney is working very well,” he said. “It’s not quite back to normal just yet, but we’re working on it. Some of the medication I’m on is preventing me from getting within that normal range, and my doctor has indicated that once I’m off some of the antibiotics the kidney function should improve even further. But it’s vastly improved over where I was a couple of weeks prior to the surgery.”

“From what I heard, my kidney started working almost instantaneous for Joe,” Parker said. “Before they had even finished fully attaching it, it was starting to do its job, which I think is just awesome. That’s a miracle. So it was definitely meant to be.”

“The day following our surgeries, I was able to get out of bed and walk down to Sarah’s room to visit her and to thank her for such an extraordinary gift,” Vincent said. “Over the next couple of days, Sarah and I would visit each other, and each time I saw her I couldn’t help but get emotional because I simply couldn’t believe what she had done for me. She is truly an angel.”

Sarah’s recovery time was a little longer, since her surgery was “a little more invasive,” she said.

“They warned me at my pre-op appointment that I would have more pain than Joe and he would get up and be moving probably a little quicker than I would be,” Parker said. “But I think we’re both getting along really well. We’re just building up our strength and I’m feeling really good.”

And even though she’s now left with just one kidney, Parker remains confident that she did the right thing.

“Because I donated a kidney, I do have a slightly larger chance of possibly getting kidney disease, but it’s very low,” she said. “The one thing that they give you for insurance, though, is that if I ever do need a kidney, I’ll go right to the front of the list.”

Given a new lease on life, Vincent said his new kidney could extend his life expectancy “from 12 to 20 years,” although he’s met transplant patients who have “had them for 30 years.”

“I would encourage everybody to do it,” he added. “Obviously, it’s a big sacrifice that Sarah made and that other donors make, but it’s the ultimate gift. It’s the gift of life. Without it, I would be looking at dialysis and dialysis is not a cure. It just kind of maintains the status quo, but you can’t be on dialysis forever, either.”

Sadly, Vincent shared that his sister, Cheryl Tucker, is also in need of a kidney transplant and has been on the waiting list for almost three years.

“She’s probably looking at starting dialysis right after the holidays, so maybe if we can pray and get the word out, she’ll find a donor, too,” he said.

“I found out after the surgery that his sister also is in need of a kidney donation,” Parker said. “So, I would love to see someone step up for her as well. I really hope that other people will step up, because there are people like (her) and so many others in need. I absolutely would recommend others consider doing it. I mean, there is no better feeling (than) knowing that you’ve saved someone’s life, right?”

Those interested in being a kidney donor should email Joe Vincent at jtvincent7@gmail.com.

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