Why not me?
‘Divine intervention’ leads St. Mary, Mother of God parishioner to give gift of life
BY CLIFF GORSKI
Kristen Hughes-Marhefka likes to be a good gift-giver. She gives the gift of her time and talent at her parish, St. Mary, Mother of God Parish, Freeport, where she serves the young church as a youth group volunteer. She is also Secretary on the Board of Directors for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Greensburg.
The busy physical therapist was taking a break one day, scrolling through Facebook, when she came across a post about Therese Reinhardt, a close family friend who was struggling with dialysis treatments and in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Hughes-Marhefka paused for a moment and offered prayers.
A year later, during a family beach vacation, Hughes-Marhefka ran into Reinhardt’s husband, Alan, who told her his wife was still searching for a donor. No family members were a donor match. Hughes-Marhefka asked him, “Why not test me?”
Reinhardt believes it was divine intervention.
“God is in all decisions,
and I felt like Krissy acting on her intuition was divinely guided. I felt this was a match that was meant to be,” Therese Reinhardt said.
After returning from vacation, Hughes-Marhefka went to the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh for testing. A month later, results showed that she was a perfect donor match for Reinhardt.
“I called her a day before her birthday to say, ‘Game on — we are a match, so let’s exchange this gift,’” Hughes-Marhefka said.
Being an organ donor requires major surgery. Hughes-Marhefka’s mother asked her faith community at daily Mass for prayers. It became a prayer chain that extended around the globe.
The transplant surgery was scheduled for November 2021. Three days before the surgery, Hughes-Marhefka tested positive for COVID-19, so surgery was postponed until Dec. 10, 2021. Hughes-Marhefka used the extra time to prepare for the holidays, knowing she would need recovery time.
“I did my Christmas shopping, I wrapped my presents, I baked my cookies, and the final gift I gave away was my kidney,” Hughes-Marhefka said.
The surgery was a success, and both women have recovered. Hughes-Marhefka’s first big outing after the surgery was to attend Christmas Eve Mass at her parish knowing that she gave Reinhardt a Christmas gift of life.
“I just wanted to do this so that my friend could have her life back,” Hughes-Marhefka said.
Reinhardt, who used to plan her life and career around a dialysis machine, says her life is very different thanks to Hughes-Marhefka’s lifesaving gift. She was able to travel to California to attend her son’s wedding, and Hughes-Marhefka was delighted to be able to join the family on the trip.
“I don’t know how to put it into words except to say the joy that it brings to me and my family and the things that I am able to do now and the good that I can do in these extra years — all of those are blessings that cannot be underestimated,” Reinhardt said.