Rev. Merle D. McJunkin Shares His Kidney Transplant Story in Honor of Donor Sabbath

Reverend Merle McJunkin was shocked when his doctor told him at a 2004 check up that his kidneys were failing. He had always been healthy and stayed active doing mixed marital arts each week and caring for his congregation at the Grace Baptist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. This was scary news that he didn’t see coming.

“After that there was a slow decline of my physical health,” Rev. McJunkin recalls. “Some things took a little bit longer to do and I didn’t have the energy or strength to do things that I would normally be able to.”

His kidneys continued to decline and Rev. McJunkin was placed on the transplant waiting list in 2008. In early 2009, he began his dialysis treatments in-center. After a few months, he transferred to home-hemodialysis and dialyzed six times a week for the next two years. As his kidneys worsened, he noticed that his cognitive abilities were declining along with his physical health.

“Every year I get a lot of requests for reference letters from college and high school students,” he says. “I used to be able to crank them out quickly in 20 minutes or so, but once my kidneys started to fail it would take me two hours to write a letter that wasn’t very good. That’s when I realized how much the toxins had built up in my body and in my brain. It was scary.”

Many of his friends, family and congregants got tested to see if they could donate their kidneys, but none of them were a match. That all changed in 2011.

After waiting for three years, Rev. McJunkin received a kidney from a living donor, Mr. Michael Samuels, Sr. Michael, one of his congregants, was also a Coast Guard veteran and had donated bone marrow in the past, so becoming a living donor was very in line with his character.

“Mike told me he felt like it was something that he was called to do,” Rev. McJunkin remembers. “When we found out we were a match it was incredible. I was humbled and amazed that someone I wasn’t very close to would be willing to even consider donating a kidney to me. It shows what a giving person he is.”

Before the transplant, Rev. McJunkin’s health had gotten so bad that he was considering working less hours at the church and going on disability pay. His faith helped him get through the most challenging periods of his illness.

“My faith gives me a sure and certain hope that even if things don’t get better, I will live the best life that I can for as long as I can,” he says. “I look forward to life beyond this, but what a blessing it is that organ recipients like me can receive the gift of life from a neighbor or friend and lead a good life.”

The transplant was a success and these days Rev. McJunkin is healthy, happy and preaching at Antioch Baptist Church in Bedford Hills, NY. He says his experience of being sick and recovering has made him a better faith leader because he is able to relate to congregants who are going through health crises.

“There is a group of kidney patients at my church and we pray together and counsel together,” he says. “It has been a blessing to know them and see some of them get transplants and get their lives back and do more with it. The experience changes us all for the better. This gift of life inspires others to pay it forward in their own unique way.”

Donor Sabbath takes place each November and is a time when faith leaders across the nation come together to educate their congregants about the power of organ, eye and tissue donation. To learn more about organ donation, please visit LiveOnNY.org.

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LiveOnNY helps saves lives, provide comfort and strengthen legacies through organ donation. #LiveOnNY www.liveonny.org