Rev. Frederick Scott Hill, OMI, has lived at Sacred Heart Church in Oakland for the past seven years.
CARRIE MCCLISH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
'I turn to Jesus more and to ask Him for help'
After a long wait, Oakland priest gets needed kidney
When her phone rang at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21, Nancy Hill picked up the phone, thought it was a crank call and she hung up. The phone rang twice more and she hung up again and again before she realized that it was her son, Rev. Frederick Scott Hill, OMI, calling to tell her the news they had been long waiting for. A matching kidney had become available.
Mrs. Hill, 90, wasted no time in getting ready. She put on some clothes, grabbed her bag along with her walker and called a cab which picked her up from her home at an assisted living residence in Oakland and took her to UCSF Medical Center. Before the surgery, she told her son's surgeon that "God is in your hands."
After the surgery hours later Mrs. Hill was still at the medical center. She watched as her son was being wheeled on a gurney to his hospital room.
"Scott looked so small lying on the gurney. He looked like a little boy," she said. "I cried a little."
The surgery was a success and Father Hill, 67, whose failing kidneys were removed in two emergency surgeries last year, finally received a kidney after spending about six years on a waiting list.
"I thanked God that he came through," Mrs. Hill said, noting that the moment was bittersweet. The kidney donor was a young man who had been killed in a car accident in southern California.
Prior to his recent hospitalization Father Hill said he was very mindful of the fact that he would receive the gift of life from a donor, from a recently deceased person, whose family he wouldn't have the opportunity to thank.
"I cannot pray for a kidney," he said during that July interview. "But I can pray for that person and for that person's family."
Father Scott and his mom know about the pain of loss. The priest was 15 and his brother a little over a year younger when their father died of kidney disease at the age of 42 in 1965. Mrs. Scott became a single parent raising two teenaged sons.
The priest later learned that he had inherited the same disease that took his father's life when it was revealed in a medical test while joining the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The test results, however, didn't prevent him from becoming a priest.
Ordained to the priesthood on June 22, 1979 at age 30, Father Hill spent 16 years in parish ministry. During that time he provided comfort and support to many people at the start of the AIDS epidemic. He later studied and trained in California hospitals to become a hospital chaplain.
"I got to meet people in their most vulnerable moments," he said. "It became a privilege to walk with them during their journey."
Father Hill began to experience his own journey from hospital chaplain to patient several years ago when he suffered a severe stroke, which caused mobility and other problems. His rehabilitation was long and difficult. Then in recent years his kidneys began to decline and his ability to minister to others was curtailed.
"It is a privilege to share the Eucharist, the word of God," he said. "Celebrating Eucharist is a gift that I didn't fully appreciate when I was younger."
Because of a shortage of donor kidneys Father Hill, like thousands of people living with kidney disease in the U.S. had to undergo dialysis — a process that involves "cleaning" the blood or getting rid of the body's wastes, extra salts and helps control a person's blood pressure when one's kidneys can no longer do the job. A person can be on dialysis indefinitely if a kidney that matches one's tissues cannot be found.
According to the Living Kidneys Donors Network there are more than 93,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list in the U.S. If a match cannot be found among family or friends, the wait for a kidney from a deceased person could be five years. In some states it can take as long as 10 years.
Patients are prioritized by how long they've been on the waiting list, their blood type, immune system activity and other factors. Eighty percent of the people on the waiting list are on kidney dialysis. The longer a person is on dialysis and has to wait for a transplant, the short and long term success rates are negatively affected. On average, receiving a kidney transplant can double someone's life expectancy.
Waiting to move up the list for a kidney transplant challenged the priest in ways he never imagined. In addition to undergoing dialysis three times a week — a process that left him feeling fatigued — he has had to follow a strict diet that included restricting the amount of liquids he consumed and he was required to exercise in order to remain on the transplant list.
Another major challenge Father Hill experienced during his waiting on the kidney list was finding himself in what he called a "holding pattern." He found it difficult "having to sit" when he wanted to be more active.
"God and I had a few words," the priest said. "I was angry and frustrated. Even on dialysis I could travel — I did some ministry for a community in Alaska."
Being on top of the transplant list meant that he could no longer travel as he had to be close enough to the hospital when a kidney became available. "I couldn't be available to assist at Sacred Heart Church, nor could I offer to help at other parishes when the need arrived."
Yet during this time of struggle the priest found that he had to learn to let go of doing the things he wanted to and allow God to provide what he needed. "I hadn't been very trusting of God. But I'm getting there."
During long hours of dialysis, he used the opportunity to spend more time in prayer and meditation. "I turn to Jesus more and to ask Him for help."
At Sacred Heart Church, where he has lived for the past seven years, Father Hill found another source of comfort and peace. He discovered that he has been on everyone's prayer list. "Everyone has been praying for me," he said.
He also received much love from his Oblate family — a number of members of his community came forward to be tested to see if they could donate a kidney. Other priests have stood in for him when he was not well enough to preside at Mass.
If there is one lesson that he would like to share with others who are battling chronic health problems is that "it doesn't need to stop you. You don't have to hide. You are still part of the community."
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