Priest donates kidneyCatholic parishioner's prayers for kidney answered by her priest By David Flick
NOVEMBER 11, 2009 (www.dallasnews.com
) - Even with her puckish sense of humor, no one could doubt that Carrie Gehling has faced serious health issues.
She lost both legs to a 40-year fight with diabetes and suffered four heart attacks, one of which left her clinically dead for 2 ½ minutes.
After years of dialysis, she needed a kidney transplant, but her medical history made her a high-risk candidate. Several hospitals had turned her down until Medical City Dallas Hospital earlier this year agreed to the procedure – with the provision that she find a live donor.
Among those she turned to for help was her pastor at St. Rita Catholic Church. Monsignor Mark Seitz is a popular and energetic priest who, when not tending to his flock, occasionally indulges in inline skating.
One day he was thinking about where Gehling could get a donor.
"And then I thought, why not me?"
He went through testing that proved he was an acceptable match. When he broke the news to Gehling, she responded with her usual wit.
"I said I was going to call it my holy kidney," she recalled.
The transplant took place Tuesday morning. Later in the day, a spokesman at the northwest Dallas parish said the procedure had gone well. Both patients were conscious and recovering in their respective rooms at Medical City.
Gehling, 45, noted before the procedure that some scientists believe transplant recipients pick up some of the traits of the donors.
"I told people I hope I don't pick up roller blading," she said. "And I'm not going to become a nun."
Seitz, 55, said before the procedure that he intended to set aside his blades for a stack of books during the weeks of recuperation.
He considers organ donation to be an extension of his pastoral duties.
Last summer, when he first heard that Gehling needed a kidney, , "it got me thinking about what a priest does," Seitz said. "We follow the model of one who literally gave his life for us. If he can lay down his life, I can give away a kidney."
The attitude surprised no one at the church, where Seitz preaches on Sunday and Gehling teaches a catechism class to children.
"He's always been there to help those who need him the most," parishioner Michelle Chadwick said of Seitz.
She noted that he worked to establish a sister church in Honduras and, back in Dallas, inaugurated a Spanish-language mass at the traditionally Anglo congregation.
Susan Scheetz, who worked with Gehling in the parish catechism classes, said she is a favorite among everyone who knows her.
"The kids adore her, and parents will drop by to ask how she's doing," Scheetz said. "I've never seen her without a smile on her face."
Gehling said she did not always take life so light-heartedly or have such an easygoing relationship with the church.
"I lost my faith for a while when I was 20 and my father died of a heart attack," she said.
Link: Check the status of Carrie Gehling and St. Rita Catholic Church Monsignor Mark Seitz
She was so angry that although she had been a longtime parishioner, she avoided driving past St. Rita's on her way to work.
"Then one day, I woke up and thought, 'What in the world is wrong with you?' " she recalled. "If my father had lived after that heart attack, he would have been a vegetable. What the Lord did was for the best.
"There's only one way to put it: Thy will be done."
Both said they have been overwhelmed by support from the parish – and beyond.
On Monday night, parishioners gathered for a special rosary service, and Seitz said parishioners have spread the word everywhere.
"There are people all over the world praying for us," he said.
Gehling said before the operation that she was eagerly looking forward to the procedure.
"When you're high-risk, there are people who don't think you're going to make it, but I say, 'You don't know me,' " she said. "There's more in life that I want to accomplish."