Ask anyone at Summit Baptist Church about Executive Pastor Jimmy Slick, and they’ll likely have a story about how he went above and beyond for his fellow neighbor. Between running a Sunday School class at the church, leading the choir and being the grandfather of five, Slick, who is also an avid runner, is always on the move. To date, the 65-year-old has run 19 marathons. He’s even gone so far as to get a tattoo for his grandson, after he promised to get commemorative ink if his grandson hit his first homerun. But now, the Acworth minister has accomplished his biggest challenge in health, faith and running: donating a kidney to his friend, fellow runner and parish member, Jack Abbott.

Abbott, and his wife, Sandra Abbott, joined the Summit church community about 16 years ago. When Slick found out the couple were runners like himself, he and Jack Abbott developed a bond that has grown over the years. Aside from running together, Slick has also mentored the Abbotts in their Sunday School class and even sang at their wedding.

“We’ve been connected with Jimmy now for a long, long time,” Jack Abbott said. “Twenty years now.”

But that bond was going to go even deeper, through flesh and bone. They would become “kidney brothers,” as some members at the church liked to call them.

“I can’t even wrap my head around what is happening, that Jimmy has offered up one of his kidneys,” Abbott said, just two days before the surgery.

The prayer

Abbott, the former director of the Peachtree Road Race, has been running for 47 years. A retiree from Lockheed Martin, Abbott even met his wife, Sandra, at a running event hosted by his former employer. Running always made him feel on top of the world and in supreme health. He took care of his body with exercise and didn’t feel the need to attend regular checkups for decades.

“I was a runner,” he said. “I was invincible.”

Until 12 years ago, when Abbott walked into a doctor’s office for the first time in years and received some unsettling news: his kidneys were only functioning at 30 percent.

“No one really knows what started it because I didn’t go to doctors,” he said.

Abbott stabilized at 30 percent for a few years, until his doctor suggested he be added to the kidney transplant list for deceased donors about a decade ago.

“I didn’t get a call till about two years ago,” he said.

Abbott’s kidney functions had reached 20 percent when his doctor called to tell him there was a kidney available from a deceased donor, but with a catch.

“The deceased donor spent time in prison,” Abbott said. “He might have AIDS, he might have this, he might have that, and I have to decide instantly. When they get a kidney, (the surgery) has to be within hours; it’s that simple.”

Despite the need for a kidney, Abbott was in good health and hadn’t been placed on dialysis, a medical filtering process that performs the task of cleaning waste in the blood when kidneys are not functioning normally. He decided against the risk, at the shock of his doctor.

“He remembered kind of pressuring me like, ‘Who turns down a kidney?’” Abbott said. “Well, I did.”

Abbott continued to function reasonably well until January of 2021, when he was infected with COVID-19 and almost lost his life after spending nearly a week in the ICU.

“I didn’t die,” he said. “Through the grace of God, it wasn’t my time but I was really, really close according to (Sandra), because I don’t remember those five or six days. I was in never-never land. I did survive, but it tracked my kidneys down to 5 percent. I immediately went on dialysis, which I’ve been on ever since, three days a week.”

It wasn’t his time, but the clock was running. Abbott was in desperate need of a donor. He and his wife decided to send in a prayer request to their church, Summit Baptist in Acworth.

The question

When Jack and Sandra Abbott sat down to speak to their long-time friend and minister, Jimmy Slick, they planned to discuss ways to gain more church members after suffering attendance declines from the pandemic.

Slick, who said he is not one to ask private information of someone, said he felt compelled to ask Jack Abbott about his kidney condition. The Abbotts had previously sent in prayer requests through Slick’s Sunday School class that a kidney would become available from a deceased donor.

“Now my assessment was, this was the Holy Spirit speaking to me because I wouldn’t normally ask this question,” Slick said. “After he had shared the process that it would take for him to receive a kidney… I just felt the need to ask him what his blood type was. And when he told me his blood type was O negative, it was just like, you know, just one of those epiphany moments, because my blood type is O negative. We just shared how interesting it was that we had the same blood type. It’s a very rare blood type.”

According to the Red Cross, only 7 percent of the population has O negative blood.

After lunch, Slick said he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was meant to ask that question.

“Maybe this was a way of God sharing with me that maybe I could possibly provide something that (Jack) desperately needed,” he said.

Slick discussed Abbott’s need with his wife, Kathy, of 44 years. Despite some anxiety about donating a kidney, two thoughts kept crossing Slick’s mind.

“No. 1 in our world, as a minister, one of the things we teach people is to love our neighbors as ourselves and I thought, ‘If I’m going to teach that to people, I’m going to need to be able to model it given that opportunity,’” he said. “And the second aspect is, as a grandfather, and as a father and as a husband, if I had a family member who needed this type of support, I would be begging people to step up and be willing to be a donor. So with that thought in mind, how could I refuse… to provide that support to someone else?”

The answer

The willingness to donate an organ as a live donor is just the first step in the process, according to Slick. The mind, body and spirit of the living donor must be healthy enough to withstand the stress and trauma of losing an organ. Slick knew he wanted to donate one of his kidneys to Jack Abbott. But it was up to doctors to determine if it was possible.

“The donor department at the hospital told me that at any given year, there’s a need of over 100,000 people who need a kidney, and in any given year, they only get about 10,000 kidneys,” Slick said. “And the majority of those are as a result of someone passing away, someone who has agreed to be a kidney donor, and that just spoke volumes to me as it related to the fact that there are so many people in need.”

After rounds and rounds of stress tests, examinations and physicals, the surgeons determined Slick was in prime health and an optimal live donor for Abbott.

“This may sound a little cheesy, but God gave us two of them,” Slick said. “Maybe He gave us two so that we can offer one to help somebody else out.”

Slick hopes his story with Jack Abbott will encourage others to donate, as living donors and deceased donors. Until he went through the process of donating an organ, he said he had no idea how drastically different a living donor can make on a person in need compared to a deceased donor.

“The percentage of rejection and acceptance compared between a cadaver kidney and a live donor kidney, it’s as different as night and day,” Slick said. “When someone is able to receive a live donor kidney, No. 1, it lasts so much longer for the person. The percentage of rejection is almost negligent compared to the situation where someone is receiving a cadaver donor. That just provided that much more motivation for me to be willing to donate if we found out that I was going to be a viable candidate.”

And he was. Slick and Abbott entered surgery together on August 20, 2021. They are in full recovery. Doctors said there’s no reason Slick won’t be able to return to full health and his lifestyle should not be significantly impacted, Slick said. Abbott is off dialysis, gaining kidney function and looking forward to running again.

“Throughout this entire process, I have had absolutely no doubt that God has been involved in this and has been working in this and I would encourage anyone that is in need of a kidney to just believe and to know that there are people out there who if they can become aware of those needs are willing to step up and consider being a donor,” Slick said. “Sometimes maybe people don’t get their needs met because they’re not as well known as they need to be. Jack’s willingness to sit down with me and share, ask permission to share with our class, this is my specific need, is exactly what opened the door to have this need met.”

Both Slick and Abbott said they hope to reunite for the Peachtree Road Race in July 2022 and run together.

“I think what would be really exciting is for Jack, Sandra and I to be able to run the Peachtree Road Race as a kidney transplant team or something like that,” Slick said. “I think that could be an exciting follow-up story at some point . And the main reason I’m participating in all of this is hopefully the word will get out about the need for transplant donors and maybe as a result more people will be willing to consider donating.”

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