Have you ever had a person enter your life at precisely the right time? Perhaps it was someone that you crossed paths with and it seemed they were just destined to play a part in the big picture of your life? Robbin Broome can testify that God places people in our path at the right time and for the right reasons. His story is an example of how God used an ordinary friendship to resolve an extraordinary health crisis in his life. The experience impacted Robbin in ways he never expected.
In 2009, Robbin, accompanied by his wife Sharon, rushed from their Easley home to the hospital. He was experiencing chest pain. They breathed a sigh of relief when no major health problems with Robbin’s heart were found. However, nothing could have prepared them for the doctor’s follow up question. He asked, “So, how long have you been in kidney failure?” Robbin was completely taken by surprise when he learned that he was already in stage 3 of kidney disease.
Kidney disease is often called a “silent” disease, because most people have no symptoms in the early stages. While diabetes can be a cause of kidney disease, Robbin’s doctors felt that high blood pressure was probably the cause in his case. Robbin began seeing a nephrologist and managed the disease with minimal symptoms for several years. The nephrologist strongly encouraged Robbin to begin thinking about dialysis. According to Robbin, he had no intentions of going on dialysis for fear of the routine and responsibility his wife and family would have to manage. Furthermore, Robbin had great faith in another physician, The Great Physician. He had been asking God to put a kidney donor in his path from the very beginning.
By 2013, the taxing symptoms of kidney disease began to affect Robbin’s lifestyle and ability to work as president of Robbin Broome Inc., his financial planning firm. He lost his ability to focus and suffered from decreased mental sharpness. He was troubled by overwhelming fatigue and weakness. Sleeping issues became prevalent and it affected Robbin’s ability to stay awake. In addition, he was diagnosed with several other chronic illnesses including central nervous sleep apnea, chronic fatigue syndrome, and borderline diabetes. Robbin said, “That, on top of kidney failure, was really dragging me down. It was terrible. Everyday living got to be very difficult.”
Robbin desperately wanted to discuss a different form of treatment with his nephrologist. However, even with the steady, monthly loss of kidney function, his doctor continued to direct him toward kidney dialysis. Robbin began to study, research, and document his condition. He felt discouraged when the current medical research and his nephrologist’s advice seem to conflict. Robbin said, “I had some bad cards that were against me. I’m sure that’s what my nephrologist was thinking when he told me that I was going to have to live with my kidneys… that fixing them would not be the answer to everything.” Robbin continued to see him as advised by his primary physician. However, a small voice inside Robbin’s heart constantly echoed, “Something isn’t right,” and it would not be silenced. The last time Robbin saw the nephrologist was on October 25, 2015. Robbin’s kidney filtration rate measured at 24. He explained, “I found out through research that he should have already been talking to me about another treatment. He said he wouldn’t refer me to MUSC until my kidney function dropped to 20. He told me I would not qualify.” Empowered with his documentation, records, and personal research, Robbin met with his primary physician. He finally agreed that a referral to MUSC was necessary for Robbin to explore the possibility of a kidney transplant.
In February of 2016, Robbin went down to MUSC to complete an evaluation for a transplant. Robbin said, “The doctors at MUSC determined that pre-emptive kidney transplantation surgery was not out of the question by any means. They said that I should have already been down there a year earlier.” Robbin was officially declared a good candidate for kidney transplantation surgery and was placed on the donor list. It was validating for doctors to confirm what his internal voice had been saying all along. Robbin continued, “I had already been praying for God to send me a donor. So, at that point, I just put the word out to everyone that I needed a transplant. Amazingly, I had three very quick responses from people in different parts of the Upstate area.” Three generous volunteers completed screening and living donor evaluations. Unfortunately, they did not qualify as candidates for various reasons.
Thankfully, Robbin had a friend, William Johnston, that was also willing to be evaluated. Will became a friend of Robbin’s while completing a landscaping job for him. They also attended church together and became prayer partners. Robbin stated, “We prayed together and talked a lot. He told me that if the other volunteers didn’t work out, that he would see what he could do. He really cared for me.” Robbin never expected God to answer his prayer request by allowing his prayer partner to be his donor. However, that’s exactly what happened. While it seems coincidental, Robbin believes this blessing was a result of their prayers. God often works in surprising ways to make His love known and to accomplish His purposes.
In the summer of 2016, Will completed his evaluation at MUSC. Robbin said, “We were a perfect match. As a matter of fact, they said it was the closest match they had seen in a long, long time.” They were cleared to do the transplant and the surgery date was scheduled for the fall. Robbin said, “Ironically, the surgery was planned for October 26, one year from the day that I saw my nephrologist when he told me that this surgery would never happen.” The average waiting time on the donor list is over two years in South Carolina. Robbin continued, “At the time of my surgery in October, my filtration rate was less than 14. I was losing 1-1 ½ % of kidney function per month. I was getting very close to the end and knew I would have never made it if I had been placed on the list.” Will provided his friend with the gift of a lifetime.
Robbin continued, “William and I prayed about this process all the way from the very beginning. We both knew something good was going to come out of it.” Robbin describes himself as a worrier. He said, “The interesting thing was, from the point we started praying with each other, there was no fear at all, for either one of us. We were very peaceful and very calm about it which is not like me.” Robbin continued, “Will had the attitude that, when he gave his life to Christ, his kidneys really weren’t his anymore. That is the way he approached it. He said he felt led to do this and this was an opportunity to serve.” Robbin also had a strong desire to serve. He prayed that God would help him understand the point of all the suffering and help him find purpose in it. Most of us want to understand our purpose in life but we certainly struggle with what it takes to get there. Robbin said, “I told God that if my life was not going to change after, then I didn’t want him to allow me to get through this surgery. I just knew there was something I was supposed to accomplish after all of this and if I could not accomplish it, I didn’t want God to let me get through it.”
Truth be told, the surgery was difficult and there were times when it looked as if Robbin would not survive. The surgery, typically around four hours long, took over nine hours due to major complications. After implanting the donor kidney, Robbin’s blood was clotting too quickly. As a result, there were complications as the surgeon tried to connect the arteries and veins of the donor kidney. The kidney had to be removed and blood thinner was given. The surgeon attempted the transplant again. Unfortunately, the same scenario occurred and the kidney was removed again. Robbin said, “My primary physician advised me to not read the doctor’s report, but I do know by the third time the doctors attempted the transplant, they were not giving me much hope.” Fortunately for Robbin, the chief surgeon happened to be one of the six surgeons in the operating room. He had an idea of using the renal arteries of a cadaver to help them have a better chance of attaching the vessels of the donor kidney before Robbin’s blood began clotting again. Robbin explained, “My wife said the doctor came out and hung his head for about ten minutes. The doctor finally told her that I made it through surgery, but I sure did wear them out!” Even though Robbin was given a 50% chance of survival that night, the donor kidney began functioning immediately. Robbin laughed, “Thankfully, the surgeon’s idea worked. So now I have my 43-year-old friend’s kidney and a cadaver’s artery. How about that? This has been a positive thing since then and I’m in my seventh month now.”
I asked Robbin if his life had changed the way he prayed for it to after the surgery. Robbin admitted, “The answer to my prayer was not what I expected at all. I was asking the whole time for God to let me live through this so that what I thought was wrong in my life could be fixed. But He showed me that it’s totally different. It’s not about me. I learned that my purpose from of all of this is to be a giver. That’s not what I thought was going to take place.” Robbin added, “But that’s exactly what I want to do – be a giver and take care of people, whether its health related, encouragement, financial advice, whatever they need.” Will’s radically generous gift to Robbin impacted him in more ways than one. Robbin stated, “I’ve learned that life is not about what you can get. It’s about what you can give to others.” He also said, “The people that I’m confronted with each week are no accident. It’s always people that have medical needs or people that need some encouragement and that’s why I am here. Three to four times a week, something like that happens.”
God does indeed place people in our path – some for a day, some for a season, and in this case, for a lifetime. When Robbin and Will had a crossing of paths, God already knew that these Christian friends would minister to others and show how He used their hardship and suffering for both their good and His glory. In conclusion, Robbin confirmed, “I want to continue to help people with whatever they need. God puts people in our path and that’s just the way it is. And now, for me, it’s my purpose and my peace.”
Heather Reeves, Challenges Column Contributor
Heather Reeves, a 5th grade language arts teacher, lives & works in her hometown of Liberty, SC. She is a graduate of Clemson University & her family enjoys cheering for the Clemson Tigers. Heather also enjoys gardening, crafting, traveling, & spending time with her husband and daughter.