A sibling’s sacrifice

When they were kids in Indiana, Randy Sinn would call his little brother “big man.”

“He was five years older. I always wanted to play with his friends. I wanted to hang with them,” Christopher Sinn, 47, said from his home at Cape Cod, Mass.

The Rev. Randy Sinn, 53, is pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Lakewood, near Smokey Point. The eldest of six, his life took him far from his brother.

Part of him, though, is on Cape Cod. Most siblings share history, memory and love. Randy Sinn shared all that and more.

He shared his liver. He saved his brother’s life.

“I’ll tell you, I’m grateful. I feel like a new person,” Chris Sinn said Tuesday. “Randy’s the best. He came to my rescue.”

More than a year ago, Chris Sinn suspected he had hepatitis. Instead, a liver biopsy led to a diagnosis of cryptogenic cirrhosis, liver disease without an obvious cause.

By January, the disease had caused kidney failure. He spent three months hospitalized and on dialysis. The answer was a liver and kidney transplant.

A long wait for organs of deceased donors would likely have been fatal. Family was Christopher Sinn’s salvation. “They all stepped up,” he said.

In March, three Sinn siblings underwent surgeries at Lahey Clinic Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., a teaching hospital for Tufts University School of Medicine.

Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret, head of the clinic’s living donor adult liver transplant program, removed more than half of Randy Sinn’s liver. It was transplanted into his brother by Dr. James Pomposelli. Their youngest sibling, Barbara Sinn of Seattle, donated a kidney.

Another sister, Dulcie, was tested, but wasn’t a suitable donor.

In Randy Sinn’s book-lined office Tuesday, I met a thoughtful, fit-looking man who’s already back to sit-ups and tennis.

Last week, he took a short trip to Boston. He and his brother had checkups to see how well their livers are regenerating. Results aren’t in yet, but blood work and other indicators look good.

Of the three, Randy Sinn said his was the trickiest surgery, although the kidney transplant has higher risk of rejection. Chris Sinn will always need anti-rejection drugs.

In the end, there was no question he’d give life to his brother, but Randy Sinn said it was a weighty decision involving his wife, Michelle, their two grown daughters and Faith Lutheran Church.

“It was an emotional and financial decision,” he said, adding it’s rare, but liver donors have died. The church maintained his salary from March until May, when he returned to work.

Each patient had a medical team. “They make sure there is no family coercion. It was a thorough screening process,” he said.

A donor goes in healthy, knowing their health may fail. “That’s one of the dilemmas. I was probably in the best shape I’d ever been in,” Randy Sinn said.

Through faith, he began to see that his health was what allowed him to help. “This was where the Lord was leading me,” he said.

They’re different as night and day, these brothers. But both are family men, bonded by blood and now by sacrifice.

Chris Sinn is spending summer at home with two school-age children. Doctors have said he can play golf again. His wife, Trudy, works at a hospital. Her insurance covered most of the cost. Chris lost a job at CompuServe after Sept. 11, 2001, and was selling cars at a Honda dealership before his illness.

He’s not religious, not at all.

“One thing I can honestly say, he never preached to me,” Chris Sinn said of his pastor brother. “He lives his life by example.”

That he does.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com.

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