Would you be willing to donate a vital part of yourself so that a stranger could live?
Shawanna Hanson, who lives in the small town of Diggins, Mo., is ready to do just that. The 41-year-old woman was catching up with her Facebook friends one night when she read of the plight of Brian McVay. The 38-year-old Modesto man, married to one of Shawanna's former co-workers, needs a kidney transplant. For the moment, he's surviving by spending eight hours a night hooked up to a dialysis machine and taking an assortment of medications.
His story was detailed in The Bee on Easter Sunday.
"I was very overwhelmed and feeling badly for Christina (McVay)," Hanson said. "I felt as though God spoke to my heart: 'Don't feel bad for her. Do something.' So I started clicking on the link, 'If you want to be a donor.' I filled out the little application and started going from there."
Before Hanson can be tested to see if she's a match, the McVays must raise $25,000 to $30,000 to prove to the University of California at San Francisco transplant staff that they are serious about the operation and understand the high cost of the first year of anti-rejection drugs. It's a tough goal for the family, which already is struggling to make ends meet with an unemployed father, a mom who had to quit working to take care of him, and three teenagers at home, including an 18-year-old son who underwent his own heart surgery earlier this summer.
The McVays have raised about $7,500 so far. A benefit dinner and auction will be held at their church, Shelter Cove Community Church, on Sept. 7 to help raise more funds.
Delivered from his past
McVay grew up in a troubled home and got into drugs, alcohol and violence when he was a young teen. He turned 18 in juvenile hall, then spent the next decade "with a needle in my arm," he said in the earlier article. "All I lived for was to get high and to hurt people. My life was so messed up, I wanted to mess up other people's lives."
God had other plans. When Brian was last released from prison in 2003, he began going to church and met Christina, a former high school acquaintance who later became his wife. Working with Christian mentors who came alongside him, McVay regained custody of his two children, which made a family of five with Christina's daughter. He also found work as a well-paid (but uninsured) pipe fitter.
The family bought a home in 2009, but the following year, Brian began getting horrible headaches and lost about 40 pounds. Because he had no insurance, he didn't see a doctor until August 2011. Dr. Richard Heck of St. Luke's Family Practice, which offers low-cost and free care to uninsured individuals, sent him to see a kidney specialist. That specialist sent McVay directly to the hospital, where he was told he has IgA nephropathy, a kidney disorder that can lead to high blood pressure and kidney failure.
His only hope is a kidney transplant.
But he credits God for bringing him this far, and for leading him into a new life. That includes working with kids in juvenile hall, telling the teens how he once sat where they sit, and about how God delivered him from a life of crime. His family also helps with the Church in the Park ministry, which offers a worship service and food to homeless people in Modesto.
"I used to say I wish I had more time," McVay said. "Now it's like my life has been divinely interrupted. The real security is knowing Jesus, and knowing he'll carry you through, no matter what's going on in your life. I think that's the coolest thing in the world."
Almost as cool as how a Missouri woman came forward as a possible kidney donor.
Reached by phone at her Missouri home, Hanson said she works as a waitress while her 6-year-old adopted daughter, Jessica, is in school. Her husband, Jesse, works the night shift in a factory.
"There's not many people who live out here," she said, describing her hometown. "We don't even have a post office."
She and Christina were certified nursing assistants (CNAs) at a convalescent home in Springfield, Mo., in the 1990s. After Christina moved back to California, the two kept in contact in the usual way Christmas cards, occasional phone calls. But they haven't seen each other in 15 years. And Hanson has never met McVay.
"I've got it on the back of my driver's license of being a donor after I die," Hanson said. "But I'd never thought about being a living donor. I just felt like if I died and got to heaven with two kidneys, and Brian was there because no one was willing to help him, I had to do something."
How does her husband of 12 years feel about her decision?
"When I first talked to him about it, I thought he'd be like, 'Are you crazy?' But he knows my heart. I would never ask or say something if I had any doubts about doing it. He's been very supportive.
"I read everything; I know the risks, the pros and cons. I've had some people say, 'He's not even your family.' And when they find out I've never met Brian, they're like, 'What?' I can't explain it, other than to say God spoke to my heart."
Tests must wait for OK
She knows her blood type is compatible with Brian's, but won't know if her kidney also will be a match until she undergoes a large assortment of tests, starting with blood and urine samples, a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram. Those tests won't start until the transplant operation has been approved.
"I pray to God I'm a match for him, actually, so we can take it out, put it in, let him have a healthy life, enjoy his kids and his beautiful wife," Hanson said.
She breaks down as she thinks about seeing Christina again and meeting Brian for the first time.
"I know what it means to them, what I'm doing," she said in a tear-filled voice. "I just feel so blessed that I have the love in my heart to do it."
If Hanson's not a match, she said, she'll still donate the kidney, which will "move Brian to the top of the list" for a compatible kidney, according to Christina McVay.
Besides donating a kidney, the Missouri woman also has been helping raise money through garage sales. Her mother makes beaded earrings to sell at the sales, and her daughter sets up a lemonade stand. So far, the family has raised $1,600.
As the McVays continue to raise funds through a nonprofit transplant organization called HelpHopeLive, they are overwhelmed by Hanson's "generous and compassionate" gifts.
"I'm really excited to see how the Lord's using Brian's situation," said Christina McVay. "It's pulling the body of Christ together, not only in our church, but in Shawanna's Baptist community in Missouri. A lot of lives are being affected.
"Big Valley (Grace Community Church) has also supported us. Church in the Park is involved. It's amazing to see the homeless community they don't have any money, but they are always asking how they can help out. It blesses us every single day."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2012.
BENEFIT FOR McVAY
WHAT: Dinner and auction
BENEFITS: Brian McVay's kidney transplant
WHEN: 6:30-9 p.m. Sept. 7
WHERE: Shelter Cove Community Church, 4242 Coffee Road, Modesto
COST: $35 per person
FEATURES: Tri-tip and chicken dinner, live music, auction, raffle, speaker
TICKETS: (209) 529-2275
CAN ALSO DONATE: On nonprofit's Web site: www.helphopelive.org. Enter "Brian McVay" in the "Find a Patient" section on home page