Parishioner donates kidney to pastor

Jerry Walls had something he wanted to get off of his chest one Sunday morning.

His kidneys were failing.

For 28 years, Walls has been a pastor at the 3,000-member Southside Baptist Church in Warner Robins. After two decades as a diabetic, Walls learned in 2013 that he would need to start dialysis soon or have a kidney transplant. Last year, Walls was put on a list for a transplant.

His kidney function gradually worsened as he waited day and night for a call from the Emory Transplant Center.

On a Sunday in late June, before going on a monthlong sabbatical, the pastor revealed to his congregation that he was in the final stages of kidney failure.

"I never even suggested, 'Hey, anybody out there got a kidney they'd like to give me?' '' Walls, 62, said. "That's just unrealistic as far as I was concerned."

Bo George, a 49-year-old usher, wasn't in the sanctuary when Walls made the announcement.

"I came out and noticed everybody's face, and the mood of the crowd was like something bad had happened," George said. "I walked up to my wife and I asked her, 'What's going on?' and she said, 'Brother Jerry is in Stage 4 kidney failure.' At that moment, God spoke to me and essentially said, 'It's time.' ... I really wasn't sure what he meant."

Three weeks later, George had a dream he was sitting at a table with the pastor. Walls was "looking at me, thanking me, and saying that he was just overwhelmed about me doing this for him," George recalled. "I never remember my dreams. Ever. But I woke up that morning and I remembered everything. So I knew I had my answer."

Several people from church sent him messages expressing interest in donating a kidney. Walls was overwhelmed by the outpouring.

"As a pastor, you want to be careful that you don't take advantage of people and their feelings towards you," Walls said. "But (George) came back and said, 'Pastor, I really feel led that this is what I need to do.'"

Tests revealed that George's blood and tissue were a perfect match for Walls.

"Everything came together," George said. "I was sort of staring at the puddle of my soul and everything in it that was reflecting back at me all made sense then, because I was exactly where I was supposed to be."

Living kidney donors who are perfect matches only come along about 5 percent of the time.

"We have just over 2,000 patients on our wait list (and) we do about 250 kidney transplants a year," said Dr. Stephen O. Pastan, medical director of the Emory Kidney-Pancreas Transplant Program.

Four years is the average patient's wait time.

"It's a good thing for someone to be giving a transplant to their pastor," Pastan said. "Those kidneys can last for longer than 15 to 20 years."

Though George has been a good friend, Walls wasn't expecting him to volunteer a kidney. The pastor was speechless.

"I said, 'Bo, I don't know what to say. ... I don't know that anybody's ever given me a gift that will match what you're giving me.' ''

On Friday morning, three months after the pastor's announcement, Walls received one of George's kidneys at the Emory Transplant Center.

A few days before the surgery, the two men joked about how the operation would affect their college football allegiances.

"I'm a big Alabama fan," Walls said. "Bo, though, is a Georgia fan, and he said, 'You know, after this surgery, I hope you wake up barking because you're going to have part dog in you.' I said, 'Well, if I do, it will be OK.'"

For more information on kidney transplants and donors, visit this website.