The Love of an Older Brother


One of the greatest joys of my life came when my family was spiritually united in seeking the Lord’s aid in my behalf, supporting me through a time of intense struggle. I learned by experience why the Lord placed us in sacred groups called families.

When I was a junior in high school I contracted a kidney disease. Over the next few years my health gradually declined until my condition became critical. Despite the best medical care, the disease eventually destroyed both of my kidneys.

In January 1968 I was admitted to the University of Washington Health Center. My parents were called and told that my condition was so poor that I might not survive the night.

My father and a close friend administered to me; then, my mother took a copy of my patriarchal blessing from her purse and read several passages. She bore her testimony, then handed me the blessing. “You have a great mission yet to fulfill,” she said quietly, “and the Lord wants to help. But you need to do your part, too, Brent.” She leaned over and kissed me good night.

My father bore his testimony, shook my hand, and thumped me on the chest. “Good night,” he said. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

Then I was alone in the quiet solitude of my hospital room—alone with my thoughts, memories, and a blessing.

As I thought about my mother’s admonition, I began to reach out to my Father in Heaven, something I had never really done before. As I prayed, I at first tasted the bitterness of a life that had fallen short of its potential. But as I continued to pray, the bitterness subsided, and I felt as if a tremendous burden had been lifted from me. I was at peace again—warm, comforted, and assured that my prayer was being answered. I knew in my heart that all would be well.

It took about two weeks to regain the strength I needed to leave the hospital, and another seven months passed before my first treatment on an artificial kidney machine. But it was time well spent, for I had decided to really find out what the gospel of Jesus Christ was all about.

My first project was to read the Book of Mormon. For hours at a time I pored over that tremendous book of scripture, gaining a testimony of its truthfulness and a love for the book itself. Now life took on new meaning, as if a light had been turned on and I could see and understand as never before. I was uplifted, enlightened, instructed, and spiritually quickened. Today I look back on this period as perhaps the most significant period of my mortal life.

In those early years of artificial kidney development, the expense and lack of facilities meant that treatment was restricted to a fortunate few; kidney center personnel were responsible to determine who would receive treatment and who would not. As I approached the artificial kidney center, my application seemed a bit lacking. I was, after all, single with no dependents, no income to speak of, and no resources. But I did have something going for me—a super family. And the doctors knew it. They reasoned that because I had such a close and supportive family, I would always have people around to help take care of me. This made me a good candidate for a new experimental home-machine—and perhaps, someday, even for a kidney transplant.

I learned a great deal during those three years on the kidney machine. My faith in the Lord grew as I watched his hand guiding my life. I was close to my family, and in spite of the machine I loved life more than ever before. I had never been so free, nor as happy. Yet, I yearned to be rid of my mechanical companion.

This goal, like so many others, became a family project. We often spent family home evenings and family interviews discussing alternatives to dialysis and the justifications for a transplant.

I recall one memorable week when the family was all together after an extended period of separation. Missions, marriages, and college had scattered us across the globe for a number of years. Then Christmas of 1970, like a magnet, brought us all back home again.

During that week we spent a great deal of time talking about my health. We had all researched the possibility of a transplant, and each member of the family had personally volunteered to be my donor.

One afternoon while playing basketball with my brothers, I stepped back for a moment and watched them play. Each was a superb athlete. Craig had been a contender for the Olympic swimming team; he was now married and had a family. Barry had been an all-state football player and was now an expert snow skier. And Kevin was one of the best high school basketball players in the state.

“Thanks anyway,” I thought as my eyes brimmed with tears. “I love you all for the desires of your hearts, but I simply don’t feel right about it.”

With Christmas over, Barry returned to Brigham Young University and Craig and his family returned to their home in California. I eagerly busied myself with missionary labors, and all returned to normal.

Then one evening a marvelous and unexpected event occurred during family prayers. My father was voice, and when the prayer was completed we all knew what was to transpire. With tears in our eyes we discussed our feelings. Yes, each had felt the same confirmation. We should go ahead with the transplant.

In retrospect, that decision may have been the greatest miracle of all. Logic and personal feelings just didn’t matter anymore; we knew what the Spirit had directed.

That evening I made a long-distance phone call to my brother Barry in Provo and talked with him about the transplant. I explained to him the answer we had received and asked him to pray about it. But Barry eagerly accepted on the spot, saying he had prayed about it many times and was simply awaiting my call. I told him we could wait until June, but the next day he dropped his classes and came home.

After Barry arrived, however, the surgical team discovered that he had developed an immunity to Parrot’s Fever while serving his mission in Mexico, and they feared a reaction to the medications necessary after the transplant. To Barry’s deep disappointment, it was determined that his kidney was not transplantable.

About two weeks later, we had another of those extra special family home evenings. And again we felt impressed to proceed with a kidney transplant. Again I went to the phone and called a brother, this time my older brother, Craig. Again I received a positive response.

Within a week, Craig, his wife Penny, and their year-old son Jason flew in from California. That very afternoon I reported to the hospital, and Craig was admitted the next day.

Our names were placed in six temples from London to Los Angeles by friends of the family.

The night before surgery we held family home evening in my hospital room. At one point I tried to tell the family that it didn’t seem worth the risk or sacrifice required of my brother to attempt the transplant. But dad looked at me soberly, put a hand on my shoulder, and softly said, “We all feel that this is what the Lord wants, and your brothers are proud to be able to do it. Remember, Brent, we’ll all live to see you running across the park lawn again, with that grin of yours from ear to ear.”

Surgery began the next morning at 6:00 A.M. with my nurse giving me a preoperative sedative. At the end of the day I opened my eyes to see my parents hovering over my bed. I was back in my hospital room, and I knew everything was all right.

I remember seeing other members of the family briefly that evening. But I couldn’t find Craig. “How is Craig? Where is my brother?”

A familiar hand rested on my shoulder, and I heard my mother’s voice: “Brent, Craig is fine and your new kidney is fine, too.” With those words I went back to sleep. “Thanks, Father in Heaven. Thanks, Craig. Thanks a lot, family.”

During those first few days after my transplant, I caught a chilling message through the troubled faces of my parents and brothers. All was not well with Craig. By the third day I was sure he had died and no one would tell me about it. Actually, he hadn’t died. But he was very ill and having a difficult time recovering from his part of the surgery.

On the afternoon of the third day, my father and brother, carried Craig to see me. He was the color of a ripe banana. With half a smile on his face he said, “How’s it going, brother?” At that moment, seeing his pain and considering his sacrifice, I knew what love was and what a family was all about.

Two days later, the medical reports indicated that I was rejecting the new kidney. It appeared that we had failed. Drastic medical measures were taken, but with little success. As it turned out, the most powerful aid of all was prayer. Etched deeply into my soul is the memory of many nights when family members knelt around my bed and one by one prayed to our Father in Heaven. I listened as my brothers wept, praying that I might live. Then, silently, none of us able to speak, we’d touch hands to say good-night. And they were good nights, for we each experienced the pure love of Christ.

The kidney rejection was finally overcome; Craig, too, rapidly regained his health and strength. Today, my doctors report that I am one of the healthiest kidney recipients in history. I have a beautiful wife, two sons, and a daughter. Craig, now the father of three, lives a normal life surrounded by people who still don’t know why he made that quick trip to Seattle several years ago.

I can testify that one of the greatest joys of mortality comes when a family is spiritually united in seeking the Lord’s aid and comfort. I am awed by the love displayed in my behalf. When I think about my family I think about the Lord, who is the true head of our gospel family. I think about his love, his devotion, and his willingness to sacrifice for us. And I feel that I have gained a special testimony and appreciation of the atonement of Jesus Christ, for I know what the love and sacrifice of an older brother can mean.

[photo] Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

D. Brent Collette, a seminary teacher and father of three, serves as a counselor in his Layton, Utah, ward bishopric.