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Feb14FriMajors Keith and Shona Pike's marriage vows took on deeper meaning when he needed a new kidney. February 14, 2020 by Ken Ramstead
There are as many ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day as there are people to celebrate it, but few can match how Canadian Salvation Army pastors Majors Keith and Shona Pike spent February 14, 2018.
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- Faith & Friends
“I was in a hospital room being prepped to donate a kidney to my husband,” says Shona.
“When we met 39 years ago, I knew we were a pretty good match. But now we have medical science to back up how compatible we are!”
“I tell people it was love at first sight for Shona,” smiles Keith, “but she doesn’t quite remember it that way.”
Both members of The Salvation Army, the 15-year-olds met while on an exchange trip between their respective church’s musical groups in 1980. They continued to correspond even after Keith’s pastor parents were transferred to Newfoundland and Labrador.
The friends lost track of each other after some years but reconnected through a mutual friend.
Shona was attending university in Toronto, and the two started corresponding again. As it happened, Keith had some health concerns, which necessitated his journeying to Toronto for a consultation with a nephrologist in 1986.
The two stayed in touch, and romance blossomed.
“There was always a certain attraction,” says Keith, “and we connected on so many levels.”
“We also felt the same calling to ministry,” adds Shona.
Both trained to become Salvation Army pastors, she in Toronto and he in St. John’s, N.L. After commissioning, they were married in 1990.
Over the next 29 years, the Pikes were posted to various appointments throughout the country.
“And life was ...” starts Keith.
“... normal,” finishes Shona.
Out of Time
In early 2017, though, Keith’s doctor informed him that his healthy blood levels were beginning to decline, an indication that the kidney transplant he’d had in 1988 was failing.
Keith says, “I was thankful for the time I’d had with the first kidney,” which was donated by his brother, John. “The average lifespan for a transplanted organ is about 15 years, so I was fortunate it lasted almost 30.”
Of course, Keith’s doctors knew this would eventually occur, so the process of looking for a donor kidney began in earnest that summer.
Keith’s sister was an obvious transplant choice and began preliminary testing to donate her kidney. She had to be excluded due to some complications that required further testing, which would take a year to rule out—time that Keith’s failing kidney did not have.
Ace in the Hole
At around this time, Keith and Shona received orders transferring them to Salvation Army International Headquarters (IHQ) in London, England.
“IHQ knew that the transplant—when it happened—would be done in Canada, and they were willing for us to work remotely until it did,” explains Shona.
In the meantime, the couple had to undergo routine medical examinations in preparation for the move.
“I asked my doctor what my blood type was,” says Shona. “She didn’t know, but since they were doing all the blood work anyway, they’d find out.”
When the results came back, Shona discovered she had Type O, which meant she was a universal donor.
“Keith has Type B, so I could be considered as a donor for him.” Mere curiosity did not prompt her request.
“We didn’t know at that time that his sister would be excluded,” Shona says, “but I wanted to be there for my husband.”
Safe for Surgery
And so Shona began rigorous medical tests.
“I had to move through the testing and consultation phases and pass each one before they’d move me to the next,” says Shona. “Health questionnaires, blood tests, X-rays and scans. I was even interviewed by a social worker to make sure that I was mentally prepared to become a donor.”
In late 2017, Shona was cleared for surgery. An October transplant date was scheduled but just as the couple was leaving the hospital after the pre-op appointment, Keith’s specialist called.
“We have to put the surgery on hold,” he told them.
Keith’s hemoglobin levels had dropped to a point where there was a danger in performing the surgery.
“We were devastated,” he says.
Rigorous testing determined that Keith’s body had built up resistance to one of the anti-rejection medications that helped him produce hemoglobin.
As a result, Keith needed regular transfusions while the specialists sought out which medication was the culprit, but each transfusion ran the risk of building up antibodies to Shona’s blood.
Hard as it was to hear this news, the Pikes continued to trust the wisdom of the medical team and God for the best possible results for Keith’s long-term health.
Fortunately, once the problem medication was discovered, Keith’s hemoglobin levels improved to a level considered safe for surgery.
A Gift of New Life
A tentative date was set for March 2018 when Shona and Keith received a call from their donor co-ordinator, asking them if they would be available for a surgery date of February 14, due to a cancellation on the surgery schedule. The couple was thrilled.
“We’d been waiting for God to answer our prayers and then all of a sudden things just started moving forward,” says Shona. “We had less than a week to prepare for a Valentine’s Day surgery.”
Keith was admitted to the hospital on the evening of the 13th to prep. Shona came in the next morning and was taken right into the operating room.
The same doctor performed both three-hour surgeries, one after the other.
“I was out of the hospital after three days, while Keith was in for 10,” says Shona.
“We experienced an overwhelming sense of God’s peace and protection on the journey, and we’re grateful for the gift of new life.”
Still stationed in the United Kingdom, the Pikes are an important part of the IHQ team in the youth and children department. And in terms of their relationship, the transplant made a strong marriage even stronger.
“We took the ‘for better or for worse, in sickness and in health’ part of our marriage vows very seriously,” says Keith.
“We discovered that when you love somebody, it means sharing all of life,” says Shona. “It means the good days, the challenging days, the unexpected journeys, everything. This was certainly our experience, but we knew that whatever happened, we were going to be stronger together.”