Catholic Herald Staff
Fr. Mike Crisp has much to celebrate this Christmas season.
Butter, his 8-week-old Maltese/Yorkie puppy, is flopping around the office at St. Michael Catholic Church, Iron River, chewing on fingers and generally getting into mischief.
Butter is more than a bit of fluff. She signifies that Fr. Crisp, a Marine Corps veteran ordained in 1997, has recovered his health.
Nineteen months ago, Fr. Crisp, pastor of the parishes in Iron River, as well as at St. Peter, Dauby; St. Florian, Ino; and Ss. Peter and Paul, Moquah, went to the doctor for a physical. It was the start of a long, painful ordeal.
Fr. Crisp wears a hearing aid. That, combined with test results from a blood draw, led to a diagnosis of Alport syndrome, a genetic disease characterized by hearing loss and severe kidney disease.
He was sent to a specialist and suffered renal failure.
“They pulled me back from the edge,” he said.
Fr. Crisp has high blood pressure; to prepare for a transplant, a stent was inserted into his heart to prevent stroke. Soon after the stent went in, they discovered the prostate cancer.
Patients must be healthy before they can get a transplant, he explained. Fr. Crisp had to wait for six months after the prostate surgery to be declared cancer-free.
Meanwhile, friends were ferrying him to dialysis treatments. Patients on dialysis cannot have dogs due to the risk of infection.
Fr. Crisp badly needed a kidney. But, looking back, he isn’t sure he was ever healthy enough to make the transplant waiting list.
“I may have been on for an hour,” he joked. “They want you to be in pretty good shape.”
Luckily, the Iron River parish secretary, Shirley Trautt, was recruiting for him.
During a family dinner last October, she told her five children to have their blood types tested. Trautt didn’t expect her three sons to listen – they won’t go near a needle unless forced, she said – but one of her daughters, Paula Buchman, obliged.
It was a match.
She took a DNA swab test. Another match.
Buchman was crying when she told her mother.
They planned to move ahead with the transplant. While they waited for Fr. Crisp to clear the six-month hurdle, Buchman was tested to ensure she was healthy enough to donate. She lost 50 pounds and prayed.
“That’s a good motivation to lose weight,” she added, laughing.
All along, there were compatibility tests, “and every time, it came back that we were good to go,” she said.
The two surgeries had been scheduled for fall, but they were moved up to August at Buchman’s request. In side-by-side rooms at the University of Minnesota’s Fairview Transplant Center, Buchman and Fr. Crisp underwent their operations.
Buchman gained 30 pounds of water weight in one day.
“I was mad,” she said.
Because they take the dominant kidney, the other one has to work harder to process the liquid, Trautt explained. Within a week, the weight was gone.
In two weeks, Buchman, who works from her home in Stone Lake, was back to work.
“It was probably eight weeks before I felt my normal self again,” she said.
Fr. Crisp, on the other hand, felt pretty good. He enjoyed an “extremely fast” recovery.
“One of my doctors called me the miracle patient,” he said.
“It was just the young kidney,” Trautt teased him.
“And I am pretty awesome anyway,” he added.
Fr. Crisp was back to work in two months. He’s grateful to Bishop Peter Christensen, Deacon John Grek and priests in neighboring parishes, who covered for him during his convalescence.
He’s also happy to report his doctors have given him a clean bill of health.
“So far, until something else happens,” he said, adding, “I don’t think there’s much left. I’m a quarter-million dollar man by now.”
Butter first appeared in the office Dec. 6, just in time to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas.
The pup doesn’t go to church yet, but sources say conversion is imminent.