OWENSBORO, Ky. – Nikki Koonce took the biblical admonition about being generous to a new level on Tuesday when she gave away one of her kidneys to a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq.
Allen Miller had been dealing with kidney disease for a decade and renal failure for the past two years. Dialysis had become an unwelcome fact of life.
Though not blood relatives, Nikki and Allen both attend Life Community Church in Owensboro, a tightknit group of believers who see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. So, when members of the church family found out Allen needed a kidney transplant, they lined up to see if any of them would be a match.
"I'm just a vessel for God to use," Nikki said the day after surgery. "I'm blessed to be a part of this."
On Tuesday morning, Nikki and Allen and their immediate families, along with a waiting room filled with their church family, underwent their respective surgeries at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. By early afternoon, both were in recovery and doing well.
Pastor Kenny Rager said he’s never seen a more beautiful display of brotherly love.
“I’m in a waiting room full of church members rejoicing over an operation,” Rager said after learning that both the donor and recipient were doing well. “We’ve never been happier.”
Allen is hoping to get out of the hospital by the end of the week.
"I'm so blessed by this whole situation," he said. "For Nikki to give me renewed life and put herself through surgery, I can never thank her and her husband, Daniel, enough."
Allen’s wife, Michelle, said members of the Life Community Church family saw the gradual decline in her husband’s health as the disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, progressed. She said it was amazing to see church members stepping up to be tested to determine their suitability as potential donors.
"It's just amazing how God sees his perfect plan through when you put it in His hands and pray over it," Allen said.
Allen, 38, who served in the military from 1998 through 2004, has been a part of Life Community Church since shortly after its founding. Folks here know him as “quiet and reserved, a great family man, the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
“It’s unbelievable; there are no words to describe how it makes you feel that someone is willing to give of themselves to help you,” Michelle said. “It shows the love of Jesus.”
Nikki’s husband, Daniel, said he has felt many different emotions leading up the surgery, including both fear that something might go wrong and gratitude for having such a godly wife.
“Personally, I was terrified,” he said. “It’s insane the amount of different emotions that can run through you at one time.”
Nikki, 33, who works as a nursing assistant in an Owensboro doctor’s office, ended up being the best donor match, and she didn’t hesitate for a moment.
“I met and fell in love with her for her heart,” Daniel said. “She has a big heart. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for anybody.”
Both families say Life Community Church fosters the kind of brotherly love that it took for Nikki to give a kidney to Allen.
“It’s a church environment, but it’s so much more than that,” Daniel said. “It’s a family environment. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you used to be. It’s about who God is changing you to be. There’s so much love and support. It’s unlike any other church experience I’ve ever known.”
Daniel said the kidney transplant between non-relatives is proof of the importance of being part of a church family.
“People like to tell you they don’t need a church family,” he said. “This, to me, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt why Jesus set the model of a church family. It’s for this kind of support. It’s for these things that come up in life that we can’t expect or control.”