BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Successfully donating one of her kidneys to her husband has been described to her as “rare” or “crazy,” but Amanda Van Bussum says something like this doesn’t happen by chance.
“It happens because we have so many people praying for us,” said Amanda, a teacher at Owensboro Catholic Middle School (OCMS), who with her family belongs to Precious Blood in Owensboro.
On Tuesday, March 5, 2019 she and her husband, Travis Van Bussum, underwent two surgeries to remove one of Amanda’s kidneys in order to give it to Travis, whose one remaining kidney had been failing.
“My surgery only lasted about an hour. Travis’ lasted nearly four. We were so excited to get to see one another near the end of the day on Tuesday,” wrote Amanda on the public Facebook page she had created for people to follow their journey, aptly named “Travis’ Trek to a New Kidney.”
On the other side of their surgeries and recovering at an excellent speed, Amanda and Travis told the WKC on April 10 that their Catholic faith “is really the primary thing that kept us going.”
That, in addition to their community’s ongoing support – to the point where their family “can’t really go anywhere without people (telling them) ‘Oh, we’re praying for you!’” said Amanda.
“I really don’t think people are just saying that,” said Amanda. “I really thing they are. And it makes such a difference.”
‘Five to 10 years’
When Travis was a baby, doctors had discovered a tumor on one of his kidneys, requiring the kidney to be removed. And after undergoing chemotherapy, it seemed that he could return to a “normal” life – for the time being.
Travis and Amanda met in 2012 and started dating not long after. Within the first few months that they were together, Travis had an appointment with his kidney doctor.
“After the appointment he was pretty frank with me about, ‘Well, this is what I have going on, and this is kind of the timeline I’ve been given, and so I’ll need a transplant most likely,’” said Amanda. “The doctor said ‘in five to 10 years.’”
At that time, Amanda was 24 and Travis was 28, and “that seemed like forever” to the newly-dating couple.
Travis, who is a chemistry and biology teacher at Apollo High School in Owensboro, would joke that when that day came along, science would have advanced enough to “grow him a new kidney.”
And Amanda had figured she would give him one of her kidneys when the time came: “It just seemed like something romantic,” she said with a smile.
They were married a year later, and within that same year they started fostering and eventually adopted three young children.
Life started going “super, super fast,” said Amanda.
Before they knew it, they were six years out – and it was time for a transplant.
‘I have a feeling’
With three small children, the Van Bussums reevaluated the idea of Amanda being tested to see if she could be a match for Travis. Even if Amanda was compatible, they reflected that it might not be prudent for both of them to be in surgery – and then recovering – at the same time.
“At first I was adamant that someone else would be the donor,” said Travis.
Normally, he’s a person who keeps a lot to himself. But this time, he wrote a letter to his friends, family and coworkers explaining that his remaining kidney was failing, and that he needed a transplant.
Travis said he was blown away by “the generosity of people willing to help out.”
Approximately 30 people reached out to them with an interest in donating a kidney. But it wasn’t that simple. Testing to become a living organ donor is expensive, and because of that, only one person at a time can be tested for compatibility.
One morning, Amanda woke up and “had this feeling” and told Travis that she was going to be tested.
“I thought we talked about this?” Travis had replied.
She said, “Yes, but, I just have a feeling.”
On Dec. 21, 2018 she called the living donor coordinator and asked that her name be put on the list for Travis. They waited, and prayed. Amanda did a regime of bloodwork, followed by several days of extensive testing.
As his kidney’s functionality decreased, Travis felt like he was “walking around in a fog.”
He told himself, “There’s going to be an answer. You just don’t know when, but you have to keep going.”
And Travis remembers the day Amanda called him: “It was February 6. And she said, ‘I’m it.’”
Strength and grace
On March 3, the Friday before their surgeries, Amanda walked into Immaculate Parish in Owensboro – next door to her school – expecting to participate in the scheduled all-school holy hour with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
It was certainly a holy hour, but it was also much more than that: the school community had come together to pray for Amanda and Travis.
Amanda was surprised to see her parents there, as well as Travis, who’d gotten a substitute teacher for his classes at Apollo so that he could come to the holy hour.
“It was pretty neat to see that many people who just had us at the forefront of what was going on,” said Travis. “I mean, there’s a lot of things in this world to think about. But that day, they were all just praying for us.”
At one point Travis and Amanda were invited up to the front of the church for the school community to surround them in prayer.
“It was pretty powerful stuff,” said Travis.
Amanda had posted on their “Travis’ Trek” Facebook page only a few days earlier that their schools, their children’s schools, and their parish community were “phenomenal.”
“One bright side of going through trials like this is that you get a unique opportunity to see the absolute best in people,” she wrote, crediting the “strength” of her community.
The best thing
Sitting in Amanda’s cheery seventh-grade classroom on April 10, Travis and Amanda reiterated the power of their friends’, families’ and communities’ prayers.
“That’s what we have to owe for how we were able to maintain such strength and grace through it all, and how things were able to go as smoothly as they were,” said Amanda, who had returned to school two days prior.
Travis, whose new kidney took to him quickly and was continuously improving as the days went by, was set to return to school after spring break.
More recently, the Van Bussums have announced that they’re discerning the idea of fostering more children, now that Travis has been given a second chance at life.
Amanda said she once read that prayer isn’t the thing to do when all other options have failed.
“Praying is the best thing you can do,” she said. “It is the most powerful thing.”
Originally printed in the May 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2019 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic