Love in action.
That’s how Jennifer Briggs describes the life of Scott Schumacher, principal of St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Columbus, who donated his own kidney to her young, sick son.
“He selflessly gave of his own body to save our son’s life,” Briggs said.
Briggs met Schumacher 12 years ago when her family moved into a house across the street from the Schumachers’ residence in Michigan. The families formed a tight bond as they began raising their children together and attending the same Lutheran church.
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“We were very close,” Schumacher said.
When Schumacher relocated his family to Columbus in 2005 to take a job at St. Peter’s in Columbus, the Briggs cemented the relationship between the two families by making Schumacher and his wife, Anita, the godparents of their son Cole, who was born shortly after the Schumachers moved away.
The joyous occasion of Cole’s birth quickly turned gravely serious, however, when it was discovered that his kidney was not working properly, which forced doctors to airlift the newborn to the University of Michigan Hospital and place him on life support.
“Over the next few days, Scott and Anita became some of Cole’s biggest cheerleaders and prayer warriors as he fought to live,” Briggs said.
Cole’s condition was eventually stabilized, but shortly after his first birthday in 2006, the Briggs learned that Cole would need a kidney transplant.
That’s when Schumacher’s role in Cole’s life transitioned from spiritual mentor to life saver.
“They said, ‘Cole needs a kidney,’ and I said, ‘I’ll donate,’” Schumacher said. “We all just kind of smiled and laughed it off, but I was serious.”
After more serious discussions about the best options to save Cole’s life, Schumacher was ultimately chosen as the best donor for the boy.
Cole’s father, Bill Briggs, offered his kidney, but later decided it was in the best interest of the family to not undergo an operation at the same time as his son.
Bill Briggs’ younger brother also volunteered, but when the Briggs learned that donors had to be younger than 40 years old, he decided to keep his kidney in case Cole would need another transplant in the future, when Scott was no longer in the donation age range.
After a series of tests proved Schumacher was a positive match for Cole’s needs, the decision was made.
“It just made sense for me to be the one to do that,” Schumacher said.
Because Cole was barely a toddler at the time of the operation, Schumacher’s kidney created a visible bump under Cole’s skin. However, the size of the kidney proved inconsequential, because Cole’s health began to improve immediately after the procedure.
“As soon as they implanted the kidney in him, it worked right away,” Schumacher said. “It was like screwing in a light bulb.”
Today, Cole is a thriving little boy, Briggs said.
“His health isn’t perfect and he has challenges, but overall he’s doing great,” she said.
While it is amusing to Schumacher to see Cole and know that a piece of himself is living inside of him, Schumacher said his relationship with the little boy is strong because of the bond — both literal and figurative — they share.
Although Briggs credits Schumacher with saving her son’s life, the St. Peter’s principal said he is hardly worthy of such high praise.
He did for Cole what anyone would have done for a friend, Schumacher said. His actions were not intended to bolster his reputation but rather to help a little boy who deserved a chance to live.
His work as a Lutheran principal calls him to emulate the life of Jesus, Schumacher said, and stepping in to save Cole’s life is exactly what Jesus would have done.
“Honestly, who wouldn’t volunteer to do something like this for a friend?” he said. “This was an opportunity that God placed in our life, and I really think that God wants us to say yes to those opportunities.”
Each person is born with two kidneys, which are located on either side of the body just below the rib cage. Once a kidney begins to fail, a transplant is the closest thing to a cure for the problem. A kidney can be donated from a recently deceased person, a family member or, as in Cole’s case, a friend whose kidney matches the needs of the patient. Roughly half of all kidney transplants come from a live donor, which can often be safer for both the patient and the donor because there is more time to prepare. Both the patient and the donor have to undergo an extensive medical examination before the transplant can take place.