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Pharmacist goes beyond the call of duty when she gives her kidney to a customer

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/4/2022 Terry Baddoo, USA TODAY
Pastor Donnie Pickeral with kidney donor, Dr. Kathleen Kirkland, after kidney transplant surgery © Pastor Donnie Pickeral Pastor Donnie Pickeral with kidney donor, Dr. Kathleen Kirkland, after kidney transplant surgery

Doctors and nurses often receive public praise for being on the front line when it comes to health care, but those behind the scenes can be just as dedicated and giving.  

Pharmacists are the unsung heroes of the medical profession. Toiling away in anonymity, dispensing medicines is an essential but low-profile job. However, pharmacists, especially those in neighborhood stores, often enjoy a certain hands-on familiarity with some of their regular customers. 

Dr. Kathleen Kirkland is one such pharmacist. She works for the CVS pharmacy chain in Kernersville, North Carolina. It was there that she met Donnie Pickeral, a pastor who'd come to pick up some allergy medicine.  

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Pickeral has a rare genetic kidney disease called IgA nephropathy, although he was unaware of his condition until his late teens when it showed up in routine lab tests. Pickeral's kidneys were functioning at about 50% capacity, and the prognosis was bleak.  

"There were statistics that I wouldn't have any kidneys within two years, and I would be on dialysis," Pickeral told WXII 12 TV, an NBC news affiliate in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  

Buoyed by his faith, the pastor, who works for the Aycock Fellowship Ministries in Greensboro, North Carolina, soldiered on. With some major diet and lifestyle changes, his ailing kidneys held out for many years. But by 2019, his body was increasingly exhausted, and his situation had become dire. His kidney function fell to 7%, and he needed a transplant fast! Without one, he could have just months to live.   

"For me to be able to live," Pickeral told WXII 12 TV, "someone else would have to die or someone would have to give of themselves."  

Hoping for a miracle, Pickeral was put on the transplant list and began the anxious wait for a donor whose blood type and kidney size matched his own.  

At the time, Pickeral was a regular customer at Kirkland's pharmacy, where the two had built up a friendship over a couple of years.  

"I was very impressed with her because she showed compassion, and she showed concern for me," Pickeral told Fox 8 WGHP in North Carolina.  

The pastor unburdened himself to Kirkland during their regular chitchats, telling her he was finally on the transplant list and explaining the urgency of his plight. He had no idea he was talking to his guardian angel. 

"I said, 'If somebody can give me a kidney,’" he told Fox 8, “‘I could live and serve God's people for a long time.' She said, 'You're a pastor, aren't you?' I said 'yes,' and she said, 'I want to give you my kidney.'"  

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Kirkland's incredible generosity brought tears to Pickeral's eyes, but there were many more steps before the dream of a kidney transplant could become a reality. Together, they discussed the practicalities, and Kirkland ran some tests which revealed she was the same blood type and a perfect match. The pharmacist was ready to throw Pickeral a lifeline.  

Kirkland was already preapproved as a kidney donor, but it wasn't plain sailing. In the lab, transplant doctors discovered that her cholesterol level was too high for the procedure to go ahead immediately. Before they could perform surgery, she'd have to lower it. During that anxious wait, Pickeral's kidneys shrunk to the size of raisins, leaving his hopes of survival hanging by a thread. 

Finally, in May of 2020, Kirkland's cholesterol was sufficiently low for Pickeral to receive her kidney. Happily, the operations to remove and implant the kidney were a huge success. Pickeral's prognosis improved immediately, and thus far, the 50-year-old has remained in good health and continues to thrive

Naturally, the two have remained good friends, with Pickeral describing Kirkland as his angel from heaven. However, she doesn't feel heroic or angelic. She was just following her faith and doing what was in her heart.  

 "I became a pharmacist because I wanted to help people," she told Fox 8. "He's one of my patients. I knew that if I was the right match for him, that was just meant to be. God bringing us together." 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pharmacist goes beyond the call of duty when she gives her kidney to a customer



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