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The Ultimate Gift of Friendship: Living Organ Donation
General Wellness

The Ultimate Gift of Friendship: Living Organ Donation

By MLH Staff
Posted: November 16, 2021

Interested in becoming a living organ donor? Here’s how it went for two friends who will be tied to each other forever

Reverend Colenzo Hubbard and Lee Giovannetti’s friendship spans nearly a quarter century. After a life-changing day in July, they will be part of each other’s lives forever. It started with Reverend Hubbard regularly seeing a nephrologist for years. His creatinine numbers would fluctuate but eventually they worsened until his medication wasn’t doing enough to correct the problem. He would need to be added to the kidney transplant waiting list. Reverend Hubbard, the founder of the Emmanuel Center in Memphis as well as St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, knew God had a plan. Enter his friend of nearly 25 years, Lee Giovannetti.

“I don’t know any better man that I’ve ever met on this earth than Father Hubbard,” said Giovannetti.

The pair meet often for breakfast and during their many talks, Mr. Giovannetti learned Reverend Hubbard’s kidneys were failing him and his only hope would be receiving a new kidney. Mr. Giovannetti says throughout the entirety of their friendship Reverend Hubbard has never asked him for anything – “and he never asked me for a kidney.” But Mr. Giovannetti felt Reverend Hubbard’s diagnosis weighing heavily on his own heart.

“I prayed about it for a little bit and it didn’t take me long to feel like I got the answer, which was, if you’re healthy – then you can donate something to someone like Colenzo,” said Mr. Giovannetti.

“Well, I was just overwhelmed by it. We had been friends for a long time and I told him, ‘I knew you loved me, but I didn’t know you loved me that much,’” said Reverend Hubbard.

So Mr. Giovannetti began going through the application process of becoming a living organ donor.  While most individuals have two kidneys, a person can lead a normal life with one healthy kidney. The biggest priority at the James D. Eason Transplant Institute is making sure a donation will not harm the donor. On average, a kidney from a living donor has the potential to last about 15-20 years, almost twice as long as a kidney from a deceased donor. In some instances, a donor may not be the most compatible match for the recipient – which was the case with Mr. Giovannetti and Reverend Hubbard.

“At first, I thought, ‘Well, that’s that. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.’ But then when I heard about the National Kidney Registry Program and I could donate my kidney… and Colenzo would get a kidney for him, then it was an easy decision to participate,” said Mr. Giovannetti.

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The James D. Eason Transplant Institute at Methodist University Hospital partners with the National Kidney Registry in which donor pairs may be eligible for a paired exchange or kidney swapping program across the country. So on the morning of July 13, Lee Giovannetti and his wife Jane, arrived to the James D. Eason Transplant Institute to prepare for Mr. Giovannetti’s kidney donation. Reverend Hubbard wasn’t scheduled to come in until later in the day for his transplant, but he couldn’t miss showing up early for his friend’s surgery.

“Colenzo and his wife came walking into the waiting room… we embraced and he wanted to say a little prayer, which we did. It was great,” said Mr. Giovannetti.

Staff escorted Mr. Giovannetti back to prepare for his operation, during which time Reverend Hubbard was also escorted to his room. Mr. Giovannetti’s kidney donation through the National Kidney Registry launched a chain of donations that ended with a kidney being delivered that same day to Reverend Hubbard. By the end of that day, both men would be recovering from successful operations.

“I vividly remember waking up in the recovery room, and the first thing I saw when I came to was my wife. The first thing I said to her was, ‘How about Colenzo?’” recounted Mr. Giovannetti.

Reverend Hubbard was recuperating and enjoying his new functioning kidney. In fact, it was Reverend Hubbard who was first able to visit Mr. Giovannetti as he recovered from his kidney donation.

Today, Mr. Giovennetti says, “I don’t feel any different than I felt the day before I had the surgery. I mean, physically in my body, if I didn’t have a scar and somebody hadn’t told me that they took one of my kidneys out, I wouldn’t even know it. I really wouldn’t. I mean it’s been that seamless.”

As for Reverend Hubbard, he shares, “The kidney has given me a renewed sense of hope, and I plan to stay active in the church as long as God gives me the grace to do that. And so, it has given me a renewed hope that I’ll be able to spend my time for the sake of the kingdom of God. And I’m looking forward to that.”

If you’re interested in becoming a living organ donor, you can find out more at the James D. Eason Transplant Institute at Methodist University Hospital.



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