From priesthood to philanthropy: Saving lives, one kidney at a time
By Ricky Martin
Father Davis Chiramel, a Catholic priest from Kerala, India, better known as the "Kidney Priest", has devoted his life to advocating kidney donation and assisting those in need of kidney transplants.
He is the founder of the Kidney Federation of India, an organization that works to support renal patients and their families, whilst simultaneously raising awareness about kidney donation.
Born in 1960, Aranattukara, Kerala, India, where he was also ordained as a Catholic priest in 1988 at St Thomas Church. He began serving in various parishes in Kerala.
Act of kindness sets new trend
In 2009, a man named Gopinathan was shattered when doctors informed him that his kidney was failing, and he needed regular dialysis to survive.
In addition to his critical medical condition, the 46-year-old electrician and a father of two boys, lacked the necessary funds for routine dialysis. His wife didn't have a job either.
Gopinathan was fortunate since his friends rallied to his aid by organizing a committee to raise donations. They made Fr. Davis Chiramel, then, a priest at St Xavier's Church, Vadanappili, its patron.
The committee planned to purchase kidneys for transplantation and raised enough money for an agreement with a hospital in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.
Fr. Davis intervened, stating that he would not participate in any kind of commercial kidney donation. Instead, he declared that he would donate a kidney to Gopinathan even though the latter was a stranger and a Hindu by Faith.
Fr. Davis said, "I have seen videos of kidney transplant surgery and have read through medical histories of at least ten people who have previously given kidneys. I was adamant that such a kidney donation would not have any negative health effects.”
At first, Gopinathan was hesitant to receive the kidney from Fr. Davis. "How can I force a priest, who is involved in numerous other charitable endeavours, to suffer on my behalf? That was my concern. Nonetheless, Fr. Davis was adamant, and my companions convinced me to agree”, he confesses.
By doing this, Fr. Davis created history by being the first priest to ever donate an organ. Following his example, throughout the state, 15 clergy donated their kidneys, which include a bishop, several priests and a nun.
Today, hundreds of people have signed up to donate their live kidneys in Kerala, the only state in India to do so. The Chiramel-founded Kidney Federation of India is currently inundated with phone calls from people expressing their desire to donate their live organs.
By offering to donate his body for cadaver studies for the students of the Thrissur Medical College Hospital after his death, Fr. Davis exemplary acts have already part of history.
An initiative, an inspiration
Fr. Davis launched The Kidney Federation of India (KFI). The federation's mission is to encourage family members to volunteer to donate a kidney to the needy.
While 1,000 free dialysis coupons were given out to people on dialysis, the Federation hopes to provide at least 10 kidney patients with Rs. 20,000 as financial assistance for transplants per year.
Fr Davis also encouraged live kidney donation when a healthy person gives one of their kidneys to a person in need and this is one of the KFI's key objectives.
Father Davis and his staff continuously strive to address common misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding the procedure while educating people about the advantages of living kidney donation.
They also provide support to potential donors and help in linking them with those in need of a transplant. Father Davis and the KFI serve kidney patients and their families in addition to advocating kidney donation.
They provide guidance, financial aid, and other forms of support to help patients and their loved ones get through the exceedingly difficult kidney transplantation procedure.
A witness’ testimony
“I’m Jijimma John from Changanacherry, Kottayam, Kerala. If you're wondering where I got my inspiration, it’s from Fr. Davis! He once visited Muscat in 2016 for an annual retreat. Through his retreat, I learnt about Fr. Davis’ kidney donation, and how he founded the Indian Kidney Federation, and many other things", she says.
"I learnt that living in this world doesn't simply mean existing and dying; it also means acting in accordance with God's purposes." Jijimma recalls.
"Fr. Davis’ words resonated in my mind, I was motivated to give a kidney and discussed the idea with Fr. Davis. Nevertheless, he remarked, ‘Dear, you can't just decide to donate a kidney. There are several procedures involved, so you should pray and we'll see if God wants to use you to donate a kidney."
Shring her experience, she explains, "First, we must obtain your family's consent, and many other legal formalities must be resolved.’ So, when I first spoke to him, he advised me to pray and wait for God's will and discernment."
"Soon, on June 23rd, 2017, I donated my right kidney to Robin Joseph, an aeronautical engineer from Thrissur, Kerala. He was 27 years old back then, and was undergoing around three dialysis’ in March but he could not continue with dialysis and a suggestion was made to undergo a kidney transplantation immediately. That’s when I got a call from him and he mentioned all his problems humbly and requested if I could donate a kidney."
“I gave my kidney on 23rd June 2017 and now it’s 2023. That’s six years down the lane and God still takes care of me. The recipient Robin contacts me frequently - almost every month." she says.
"Four years after receiving the kidney transplant, he got married and is now leading a happy life. He’s currently working at Cochin Airport. He was teaching in an aeronautical college, but 2 months ago got a job at the airport. By the grace of God, he’s alright. In fact, both of us are healthy and did not face any health issues, God is shielding us, may praise and glory be to God's name!”
If only organ donation was simpler
“It almost took a year to donate my kidney because the receiver and donor (myself) have to first do a cross-matching to check whether my kidney and blood will match the receiver’s blood group. Then followed by a full check-up, urine, blood, physical examination, CT scan and many other procedures.
In one year, I almost travelled seven times from Muscat to India for this purpose - to do all the tests. The next step is paper work. Back then I did not know that paper work was a lengthy and complicated procedure.
If you’re donating an organ to someone in your blood relation, the procedure is a little simpler. To donate to someone else, you need to go to the police station meet various officers and then follow many procedures. Then from my relatives, I need the permission of my father, husband, and how many ever children I have, it is required to seek their permission.
After these permissions are granted and the paperwork is ready; the donor and the recipient must submit proof to the police station that they are not doing this with the intention of making money or doing organ business. This is due the increase organ trafficking.
Therefore, they interview both the recipient and the donor. To me, as the donor they asked if I’m giving my kidney to make money and to the recipient, they asked questions whether they bribed the donor (me) into selling the organ.
After this many legal procedures take place with various physical examinations. It almost took one year to complete all the procedures back then in 2016. Each time, both the recipient and the donor had to go to the hospital and complete all tests stated by the doctor.”
Ordinary man, extraordinary mission
Fr Davis himself testifies by saying, “We shouldn't always say 'I' but include everyone around us and say ‘We’. When everyone around you tries to stop you from doing something risky but you still do it for the Lord, then you're doing the right thing. Whenever I help anyone in any small way, I see the face of Jesus in that person.”
Fr. Davis' life is itself a testimony of societal service, proving that to give to others is more of a blessing than it is to receive. Fr. Davis is also the founder of the Accident Care and Transport Service (ACTS) and author of the book “Jeevan Pankidam”. Fr. Davis now resides at Infant Jesus Church Kadangode, Kerala, India.