When Amy Vander Berg put out the call for possible kidney donors for Dea Lieu in June 2011, little did she know that her own application would be the fulfillment of his need.
Dea Lieu (left) and Amy Vander Berg at the University of Iowa Hospitals.
The entire process, from application submission to transplant, took several months—but after a multiyear health struggle for Lieu, the wait was well worth it.
Lieu, a native of Ivory Coast, had enrolled at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, at the age of 45 to study agriculture and theology. It was during his time at Dordt that he first met Vander Berg, then leader of the outreach committee at First Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa.
“I went to several churches,” Lieu said, “but First Christian Reformed Church adopted me. They listened to me and the needs I have for my people.”
First CRC raised $6,000 to help provide rice to feed Lieu’s people, who were embroiled at the time in a civil war. After his graduation in 2007, Lieu returned home and helped form the Association of Christians Fighting Against Poverty in Ivory Coast to teach farmers how to better use their land and encourage small business development.
In September 2010, Lieu returned to the United States to visit supporters. While he had been diagnosed with kidney disease years earlier, he had been healthy and on medication. A visit to the doctor during his time in Northwest Iowa just a week before he was scheduled to return to the Ivory Coast, however, showed a dangerously high creatinine level.
“The doctors told me if I went home, it would mean death for me,” Lieu said. “So I pushed my friends and partners here and asked them to help with my treatment.”
Vander Berg and other supporters began to raise funds, garnering between $125,000 to $140,000 of the needed amount for a kidney transplant, which ranges from $300,000 to $500,000. By November Lieu had begun dialysis three times a week, at a cost of $6,000 per month. In April 2011, Lieu was able to gain insurance, which set him up to be tentatively approved as a candidate for a kidney transplant. Vander Berg immediately began to seek possible donors.
“We asked that God find a match faster than we could imagine,” Vander Berg said.
The first person tested was a match; but, because of health concerns, that person would not be able to be considered for six months. Vander Berg was just the third applicant tested, and again—a match. After a series of tests, it was determined Vander Berg would be the donor Lieu so desperately needed.
“I cried,” Vander Berg said. “After telling my husband, my first thought was, ‘Why are you so good to us, [God]?’ He is beyond good to us; there is no reason we should beat the odds. There were two matches within the first three people.”
On January 5, Vander Berg donated one of her kidneys to Lieu, and surgeons deemed the surgery a success.
“This whole thing has been God’s deal all along,” Vander Berg said, “and of course he would use it for something more than just making someone healthy. Hopefully we were a witness to many other people as well.”
Soon after the transplant, Lieu learned from his wife, Charlotte, mother of his six children, that his own mother had become a Christian. Although she had been hostile to his invitations for decades, she accepted Christ when Charlotte came to her village to celebrate the successful surgery.
“We are very grateful to the Lord to have brought me here,” Lieu said. “If the Lord did not open this way to me and I went back home, I am sure that would be the end of my life. I listen to the Spirit and I think there is something the Lord wants me to do and, for that reason, is using Amy and other people here to support me and to give me life so I can go back and do what he’s called me to do.”
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