Father Lungay hopes to get a new kidney soon
“A priest for Christ, a priest for love, a priest for all. That’s who I am,” wrote Father Roel Lungay, pastor of St. Genevieve Church in Slidell, in the liner notes of a self-recorded music CD.
His parishioners consider him a devoted, compassionate priest and a strong witness to faith amid suffering. And, they should know about his recent medical trials, considering the 53-year-old priest who became their pastor in 2004 “makes my experiences part of my storytelling when I give my homilies.”
Their journey with Father Lungay strengthened after Hurricane Katrina when the church, rectory and so many parishioners’ homes were inundated by flood waters, and they simultaneously rebuilt their faith and private life together.
When the storm hit in August 2005, Father Lungay was recuperating from thyroid cancer in his native Philippines. Upon his return, he was ready to tackle the task of rebuilding. Just as the promise of a new church was on the horizon, Father Lungay “started noticing swelling in my legs.” Shortly after, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease caused by diabetes, which he has since learned runs in his family.
His kidneys were functioning at only 32 percent, requiring dialysis three times a week, beginning in late 2011.
When his kidney function diminished to below 18 percent, he qualified for a kidney transplant. He recently learned he is on a kidney waiting list at Tulane Medical Center. Being Asian, doctors predict a waiting period longer than for Caucasians or African-Americans to find a good match, but he has to be ready at any time.
“My doctor said it’s like a crack in a windshield,” he said. “The moment it breaks, it goes fast.”
Possible organ donors
Good news came his way recently – two possible candidates who could donate a kidney have been found in the Philippines. If an eligible donor’s blood cross matches with his, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has agreed to bring the candidate to New Orleans for the transplant, Father Lungay said.
Last October, he was disappointed when he returned to his native Philippines and two other candidates had been deemed too unhealthy to donate.
In preparation for the transplant, Father Lungay was scheduled in August 2012 for a liver biopsy and gall bladder removal. He asked a question then that has given him a new lease on life: Was it possible to do bariatric surgery to facilitate needed weight loss? The answer was yes.
“It was one of the best decisions I made since I became a priest,” Father Lungay. His weight fell from 266 to 175 pounds, eliminating his diabetes and allowing for daily exercise. He stopped having nightmares about dying.
“When I wake up now, I thank God for the day and for being a priest,” he said. “I really feel good. I didn’t imagine I would feel this good. I don’t think of bad things (like I am dying) anymore at night.”
Parishioners have noticed a difference in him, especially since his recent weight loss.
“It saved his life by having that procedure,” parishioner Marion Stauter said.
He sees divine intervention throughout his recent ailments, especially the detection of a 90-percent heart blockage that was fixed with a balloon.
“I am falling apart, and they are fixing me,” he said, mentioning that the combination of treatments has improved his life.
Parishioners are his lifeline
When he announced he needed a new kidney, several parishioners offered theirs, only to learn they were older than the 45- to 50-year-old limit.
“I was overwhelmed when people said they were willing to give me their kidney,” he said. “They have really joined me on my journey.”
While he considers his whole parish family, he has a special affection for the breakfast club after morning Mass, the “Bayou Nones.”
“If I don’t come here, I don’t feel like my day is complete,” he said. “It is a joy. They are like a family to me.”
“He is like a priest son I always wanted,” parishioner Jean Devezin said. “No matter how sick he is, he doesn’t complain. He gives and serves everyone. He is always willing.”
“I admire him,” Edolia Barros said. “He’s suffered tremendously. I think of his Monday, Wednesday and Friday dialysis each week, and he continues to serve us as pastor. That’s dedication. Watching Father suffer so selflessly has been so inspirational to me, learning the value of suffering. ... I see Jesus in him.”
He sees them as his support system. “Not only do they understand what I’m going through, they have shown me the way,” he said.
Father Lungay is anticipating the trip home but said there is a possibility that Tulane could have a cadaver kidney sooner. Being on a donor list means you always have to be ready. Prayer is what has helped him overcome adversity.
“Besides the prayers of the people, it is really your faith that keeps you going,” he said. “Accept faith – faith in God and his love for you. What I went through from where I was to where I am now, it is short of a miracle. ... If not for their moral support and friendship, I couldn’t have gotten out of it. It is a good feeling knowing that the whole parish is praying for me. That alone kept me going. I am living a daily miracle. I believe in miracles, but now I ask God for a real miracle (for me).”