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a charitable life

My name is Stephen Preusz.  At the age of 29, I was diagnosed with IGA nephropathy, or End Stage Renal Failure (Kidney Failure).   As the doctor gave me the diagnosis, my life was turned upside down and countless thoughts ran through my mind.  The thought of leaving this earth while I still had so many plans that would remain incomplete was the starting point of an internal journey that would range from death to the void that I would leave behind in the lives of my loved ones. 

I visualized moments during life events at many levels of importance.  These would be life events that my family would have to endure with only memories of me.  I was overwhelmed with situations that I believed a son, grandson, brother, uncle, and husband should expect to get to experience.  My nephews wouldn’t have me to make sure they know how to hit a curveball and my niece’s first dates wouldn’t have to promise me that they would treat her like the princess she has always been in my eyes.  My parents and grandfather aren’t supposed to be at my funeral; I was brought into this life to take care of them until their last days.  Most disturbing of all, I would miss seeing my best friend and love of my life walk down the aisle so that we could pledge our eternal love to one another in the witness of our closest friends and family.  I was going to miss buying our first house, having children, and everything else that Ashley, now my wife, and I had planned for the last five years.

Once I was able to escape the slow yet vivid trailer that I had created for “Life lost at 29,” my thoughts quickly turned to the financial pitfalls and restraints that kidney failure would create for me and my family.  How do I pay for these tests and this emergency hospital admittance?  How do I pay for the cost of beating kidney failure?  How do I make sure that this doesn’t financially burden me and my family for generations to come?  What I have yet to mention is that I am self-employed and these doctors don’t realize that fighting kidney disease instead of working can’t be an option, can it?  “How can I provide for myself and my fiancé without being able to work?”  These questions continuously created internal conflicts as I sat in a hospital bed - barely able to keep fluids down. 

Two weeks after I was diagnosed, I began dialysis and was told I would have to have a kidney transplant to return to a normal and healthy life.  I have always been in awe of the idea of taking an organ from one person and having it function correctly in another person’s body.  This procedure is something that happens to other people - not me - especially not me at age 29.  A month into my treatment for my disease, the shock and sadness had worn off and I turned my thoughts and focus onto beating kidney failure. 

I began researching kidney transplants and what I needed to do to get beyond this speed bump that had been put along my path.  The details and steps required to receive a kidney transplant were overwhelming.  To begin, I reached out to three highly recommended hospitals for more information and to decide where I would spend the most important hospital stay of my life.  One of my contacts was with San Antonio Methodist Healthcare and the Texas Transplant Institute.  After Ashley and I visited, we both knew that this was where I would receive the organ that would ultimately extend my life; the love and compassion that we were shown immediately let us know that San Antonio Methodist was where we were going to put our faith and trust in a bid to return to a new kind of normal. 

I have always been surrounded by a close and loving group of family and friends, but to see the outpouring of prayers and willingness to be tested for a matching kidney put that love into an overwhelming perspective.  I actually had friends and family bickering over who would give me their kidney if there was more than one match.  These actions helped me realize that this train wreck might only be a fender bender along my road of life.  My sister, who is one part sister, one part mother figure, and one part best friend to me was the first to be told that her kidney was a match.  I will never forget her initial emotion-filled phone call to tell me that she was a match and that she would be in San Antonio within the week to begin the process so that she could help her Bub.  One week later, we were in San Antonio to continue the testing needed to verify the match.  After rigorous tests we were told that her kidney numbers did not meet the standards needed for a transplant.  She was the most devastated by the results.  She was hurt that she couldn’t give me a kidney, but in her ever-positive way, she decided the next best thing she could do was spread the word that her Bub still needed a kidney donor.   

Her new mission was to educate as many people as possible of my need and how they could help.  In the age of social networks, she used a blog and Facebook to spread the word, but I am sure if a soap box was handy at any town square, she would have climbed up and continued her mission there as well.  The response was overwhelming and Ashley and I were receiving texts, emails, Facebook messages, and calls from extended friends and family asking how to get tested.  Two weeks later, we received a call from Methodist hospital asking if we could ask people not to call in for testing because they were overrun by the amount of people calling.  Over 150 people had inquired about testing for me over that time period.  We were told that was the most calls they had received since San Antonio Spurs' Sean Elliot needed a kidney transplant a few years earlier. 

Two months after my sister had begun her campaign, we were notified that my first cousin, Kurby Brand (Our Hero), was almost a perfect match and they were requesting that he come to San Antonio for testing.  If he was a qualified donor, they would schedule the transplant during those two weeks.  The news was again a miracle, but due to the emotional letdown of my sister not being a qualified match, we tried not to let our hopes get too high.  It was during this waiting period that the next obstacle with Kurby came about. 

How could Kurby afford to be in San Antonio for a month while not working and living out of a hotel?  At the same time, how was I going to be able to do the same?  This is where the true miracle of my entire experience came to light.  The National Kidney Foundation was able to assist Kurby with all of his travel and expenses so that he could give me a new lease on life.  Following Kurby, The National Kidney Foundation is the second hero in my life and my family and I will be forever grateful.  After the initial application process, we were notified of approval for two hotel rooms, food, gas, and financial assistance with Kurby’s lost wages.  This charity was now the final piece that allowed my kidney transplant to become a reality. 

As they say, “the rest is history.”  Kurby’s tests were perfect and his selfless act saved my life!  This was all made possible through the love and support of God, family, and friends, but two of the largest reasons this transplant came to fruition so quickly was my sister spreading the word through social networking and The National Kidney Foundation’s donations.  I do not have words to describe how grateful I am for everyone involved in our process; a top class hospital, love and support of family and friends, and The National Kidney Foundation.   During this year-long process I had a lot of time to think and reflect on how I could be involved in helping people in my situation and those that are less fortunate.  Everyone knows that helping or reaching out to help is the right thing to do, but we don’t always realize how to help while continuing to pay the bills and provide for our families at home.  I prayed and prayed for guidance to find a way to allow people to both provide for their families and still be able to help the less fortunate.  The guidance came to me in a blink. My family and I have worked in insurance sales and marketing for three generations.  I wanted to find a way to use my knowledge of insurance sales and marketing to benefit great causes like The National Kidney Foundation. 

a charitable life was born through these deep moments of thought and prayer.  I know you are asking yourself, “is there such a thing as a non-profit insurance agency, and if so, how does that work?”   a charitable life acts as a regular insurance agency except that a portion of the proceeds earned go to charity.  a charitable life also has some very unique features that other insurance agencies do not.  We provide peace of mind to friends and family members when needed, but we also show people how to leave something to their church or even a charity of their choice.  a charitable life will assist with providing the best tax advantages and the best donation options whether one has a little or a lot to leave to a charitable cause.  Our clients realize that not only will we find the best way for them to maximize their donation, but a portion of the proceeds from the maximized donation will be used by a charitable life.  From the first minute we were given the news of my kidney failure, to now, we have come full circle.  Just as we received love and assistance in my time of need, my family and friends are ready to return the love and assistance to as many people as possible through the venture of our hearts, a charitable life.

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