Brothers celebrate kidney transplant's 30th year as gift of life still going strong
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, February 02, 2013
2/02/13 at 6:18 AM
Walt Erwin's favorite movie is "It's a Wonderful Life," the story of a man who got to see how his life had influenced the people around him.
When Erwin was 29 with two small children, one of his kidneys was removed. A year later, the other one failed, and he went on a dialysis machine to stay alive.
On Feb. 3, 1983, after 14 months on dialysis, he received a kidney from his older brother, Frank.
At that time, the average life expectancy of a transplanted kidney was about five to eight years, he said. Now it's about 12 years.
But Erwin beat those odds.
On Sunday, he will get together with his brother and their wives to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the transplant that is still going strong.
"When someone is willing to give you part of his body to save and extend your life, you're no longer the same," he said. "It reminds me of Jesus giving his life to extend my life into eternity."
And living with a daily awareness of his mortality changed him, Erwin said.
"It really does cause you to live a different life, to focus on what really does matter," he said.
"You concentrate more on the family, on eternal values. You stop majoring in the minors."
The last 30 years flew by, he said. They were years of making memories with his family and "accomplishing things for the Lord."
Knowing that his time could be short, he learned to step out of his comfort zone "and watch God work," he said.
Erwin was one of the founders of Uniting Men to Become Promise Keepers, a Tulsa organization modeled after the national Promise Keepers, a Christian men's organization that in the 1990s filled stadiums across the nation.
"I got to see how God would work over the next seven years and change men's lives, just because we decided to do something in Tulsa for men and their families," he said.
His health condition also caused him to plan carefully to take care of his family, he said.
He continued to work right through the dialysis, an exhausting three-times-a-week, four-hour process, and through the inevitable health issues that come with taking drugs that prevent rejection of transplanted organs.
He got out of debt, paid off his house, paid for his three children's college educations and made sure his wife's needs will be met.
He is now global account director for Orange Business Services, a Paris-based network for voice, data and video transmission.
Several times over the past 30 years, tests have indicated that his transplanted kidney was failing. After prayer, and further tests, the kidney function would be normal, he said.
Doctors called it a lab error. Maybe, he said, or maybe it was a miracle.
"You're totally at the mercy of God to keep the kidney functioning," he said.
Like George Bailey, the loan officer played by Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," Erwin said he looks back on his life with satisfaction, seeing the influence he has had on his family and others in the community.
"It is a wonderful life," he said. "Just think what would not have happened if my brother did not give me his kidney."
Original Print Headline: Brother's gift of life still going strong
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Walt Erwin (left) remains thankful for the kidney donation from his older brother Frank. On Sunday, they will get together with their wives to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the transplant that is still going strong. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World