By David Karas | Correspondent
“Place your trust in God. If he brings you to it, he’ll bring you through it.”
That phrase, or some variation thereof, has undoubtedly been invoked by many faithful in times of trial and tribulation.
For Susan Zuber, 61, that sentiment – along with her steadfast faith – helped her weather five years of dialysis treatment before finally receiving a kidney transplant in August.
“I just trusted God that a kidney was going to come to me,” Susan said. “It was going to be in God’s time, not my time.”
Susan, a parishioner and daily Mass attendee in St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, credits not only her faith in God – but also her parish community – for helping guide her through the difficult journey.
“I started every day with 8:30 a.m. Mass,” she said, noting that she would then enjoy coffee with fellow parishioners before hitting the gym and going to her dialysis appointment. “By the time I got to dialysis, I didn’t feel like a sick person.”
During the four-hour treatments she had to endure three times a week, she prayed the Rosary and tried to think of the treatments as a job.
“I figured this is a temporary situation and God is going to get me through,” she said. “At the right time, a kidney is going to make itself known to me.”
And a kidney did in fact make itself known to her – all thanks to the selfless act of an old family friend.
Susan’s late father, Walt, was best friends with John Patrick, who has also since passed away. The two men had been friends since attending Villanova University, Villanova, Pa., together, and stayed in close contact throughout their lives and careers.
John Patrick’s daughter, Karen Patrick-Mackolin, wound up kicking off the process that led to Susan receiving a kidney transplant.
While Karen was not a direct match to Susan because the two have different blood types, she was able to commit to donating her kidney through a paired exchange program at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Karen’s kidney went to a recipient in Washington, D.C., and the kidney Susan received came from Boston.
“She stated the chain, and I believe there were four pairs of us that benefitted from the initial exchange,” Susan said. “It took place over the course of a day.”
Susan said the St. Rose of Lima Parish community rallied around her and Karen, offering prayers and lending support to both women.
“Our whole 8:30 a.m. Mass family, and even the 6:30 p.m. Mass people, were all praying on my behalf and on Karen’s behalf,” Susan said. “The outpouring of affection and prayers from the St. Rose family has been overwhelming.”
Susan’s mother, Genevieve “Bunny” Zuber, echoed her daughter’s sentiments, adding that their family has always relied on faith to guide them through life.
“We are a Resurrection people and have always believed that whatever is happening to us is God’s plan,” she said. “We thank God for everything, even what people sometimes think is bad.”
Karen said that she has always felt close to the Zuber family, noting that Bunny and Walt had helped her mother after her father passed away. She maintained her connection with Bunny, and during some of her visits, she would talk with Susan after her dialysis treatments.
Over the years, Bunny called on Karen to pray for Susan, especially during the several times that she was called by doctors about the possibility of receiving a transplant from someone who had passed away. Unfortunately, none of those possibilities came through. So Karen decided to help.
“It was just something that kind of popped into my head,” she said, noting that she prayed and meditated about the decision, especially as she learned more about the process of donating a kidney.
Karen, 63 and a member of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, kept coming across news coverage of kidney donations, and had some chance meetings with strangers who had donated a kidney – and she took these as signs that it was meant to happen.
“It is just an amazing thing to go through,” she said. “I just never considered not doing it. It just felt like the right thing to do.”
Both Karen and Susan joke about their late fathers being involved in negotiating the kidney exchange, especially given a range of developments that could have affected the process. Those include Susan’s kidney getting stuck in traffic while coming from Boston, and Karen’s difficulties making it to the hospital in time – as well as a last-minute request from her recipient to delay her donation.
The pair also point to signs that this was meant to be – including the fact that the paired exchange took place three weeks after both entered the program, as opposed to the ordinary six to nine months, and the fact that Susan’s call about the transplant came 40 years after a tragic accident. Moreover, the transplant itself came on the five-year anniversary of her first dialysis treatment.
Today, Susan is recovering well, and has started to be able to return to daily activities like driving and exercise. She is grateful for the “new life” that the transplant has afforded her, and has simple advice for other faithful in times of trial.
“You just have to trust,” she said.