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Stanford Report, October 9, 2002

Two men from vastly different backgrounds find common ground, giving new meaning to "blood brothers"


At first glance, John Ang and Mark Ferrell don’t fit the classic profile of blood brothers. Ang was born and raised in Malaysia, Ferrell in Tennessee. Ang is Chinese, Ferrell Caucasian. Ang is mild-mannered, married, the father of two small children. Guess who’s single, a self-described "Type A" personality, who likes to live on the edge? Mark Ferrell.

They strike you as opposites. Start a conversation with either, and you’ll learn how similar they are. Both are friendly and generous, and both are men of God. Ang is a pastor at Los Altos Seventh-day Adventist Church; Ferrell is a lay pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Redwood City. At the medical center, Ferrell also works as a LifeFlight nurse. Today, he has one kidney, but a couple weeks ago, he had two. Ferrell just donated one to save Ang’s life.

Stephan Busque confers with John Ang (center) and Mark Ferrell just one day after Ferrell donated his kidney to Ang. A LifeFlight nurse and a lay pastor, Ferrell has a deep of understanding of the balance between medical care, faith and extraordinary generosity. PHOTO: NEALE MULLIGAN

"I’m only happy when I’m helping people," said Ferrell. "Whether it’s spiritually, or someone needs a shoulder to cry on or giving a kidney. That’s the way I was raised."

Ang has eight brothers and sisters, but none could help when he developed kidney failure in the summer of 1999. Six siblings had a different blood type and the other three matched, but had other serious health issues, such as diabetes or heart problems, that prevented them from donating.

"I was shocked," said Ang. "I’ve been health-conscious all my life. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, I exercise regularly and eat right." Ang’s future looked bleak. An estimated 3,000 people in the Bay Area are on a waiting list for a new kidney. The average wait time is three to seven years.

Ang began dialysis in January 2002. "It was more like torture," he said. "I had to go to clinic three times a week and each time for three hours. After a few weeks I began to see the bright side of dialysis. I know that the machine took a lot of toxins out of my body. The second good thing was that I had uninterrupted hours to read and study, to prepare better sermons and spend more time with God."

Ang’s future changed when he met Ferrell at a church retreat where Ferrell learned of Ang’s condition. Five weeks later, Ferrell made a decision. "I started praying about it. I thought why wait for the possibility of one of my family members getting sick and needing a kidney? Let’s put it to use now."

"When Mark offered me one of his kidneys, I was in disbelief," said Ang. "At the time, I did not know him too well." That changed in a hurry. After learning that their blood types were compatible, Ferrell underwent a barrage of tests to ensure he and his kidney were healthy. "As I went through the tests, I thought we were getting closer, that this just might work," said Ferrell.

Surgery was scheduled for Sept. 18. Stephan Busque, MD, associate professor of surgery, performed the transplant. "The advantage of a live donor is that most of the time the quality of the kidney is better because we thoroughly evaluate the donor, we have more time than with the cadaver to make sure that the kidney is in perfect condition. We only take donors with good renal function." said Busque. "Second, the donor is a healthy person. It translates into better results for the recipient."

Busque performed a laparoscopic, minimally invasive procedure on Ferrell. "That means we were able to take the kidney out of his body using very small incisions." The kidney was then implanted into Ang and it started working within a couple of minutes.

The fact that surgical techniques have improved to make it easier on the donor may make it easier on the recipient too. "The recipient may feel more comfortable asking someone for a kidney donation if the procedure is much better and there is less pain for the donor," said Busque.

Some call Ferrell a hero for donating a kidney, but he downplays his role. "If I were an atheist could this have happened? Oh yeah. It could’ve come off completely well. Prayer is not your slot machine where you put in your quarter and you always get your prize from God. I find prayer allows God to do some things that he normally wouldn’t do."

Ang said the experience has made him stronger, that he is better equipped to minister to people with medical problems. He knows Ferrell’s kidney has changed his life.

"I know Mark went through a lot, it wasn’t easy for him. However, I feel like we’re bonded right now. I will care for him my whole life."

Stanford team prevents kidney transplant rejection without drugs (4/24/02)

Team saves toddler's last kidney in rare procedure (3/20/02)