- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

Bonnie Dukes, an English teacher at Grace Brethren High School in Clinton, gives of herself every day in the classroom. This summer, however, she will go beyond the call of duty and give a kidney to one of her students.
Andrew Knight, a 17-year-old senior, has had only one functioning kidney since birth, and that organ is now near failure.
"This is the kind of thing you can't repay," said Sue Knight, Andrew's mother.
Mrs. Dukes' willingness to sacrifice for Andrew comes in large part from her gratitude to his father, Dave Knight, who inspired her when she was a pupil in one of his classes.
Mrs. Dukes' 12-year-old daughter, Tiffany, said she was proud to have a mom who could rise above personal pain and reach out to help someone else.
The story began more than 17 years ago, with Andrew's birth. One of the visitors to Mrs. Knight's hospital room was a senior from her husband's high school Bible class at Camp Springs Christian School Bonnie Dukes, then a teen-ager. She brought a rose for the new mom.
"He really influenced my life," said Mrs. Dukes of Mr. Knight. "Young people are so insecure and they're trying to find their gifts and talents, and he was just one of those voices, you know, that you have at crucial times in your life.
"He believed in me and helped me to find my feet. He was one of those teachers you don't forget."
Soon after Andrew's birth, Mrs. Knight thought something might be wrong with her boy. Their doctor agreed, and sent him to Children's Hospital, where they found that Andrew had a dysplastic kidney.
"One of his kidneys didn't function at all, and the other was functioning at 65 percent," said Mr. Knight. "They estimated that Andrew would need a transplant by age 2."
Andrew grew up into his teens without needing the transplant. The typical medical strategy is to wait as long as possible before doing the operation, "because of ongoing advances in transplant technology," said Mr. Knight.
So Andrew continued living the life of a quintessential teen-ager, playing soccer and baseball for his high school and attending church and Wednesday-night Bible studies with friends he'd known since kindergarten.
"To look at him he's a healthy kid," said Mr. Knight of his son, who stands just under 6 feet. "But, inside, his kidney has been getting worse as the years have gone on."
While things with Andrew were still stable, a new English teacher joined his school during his junior year. It was Mrs. Dukes.
"She was really nice, and we all loved her because she was a really good teacher," said Andrew of Mrs. Dukes, whose two passions are American literature and Shakespeare. "And I knew my dad had taught her."
The teacher had returned home to heal.
Mrs. Dukes, a single mother, made the decision to help Andrew while in the middle of a long custody battle with her ex-husband over their 12- and 13-year-old daughters.
She has faced her domestic problems with a strength born from her faith in God, she said.
"I came here because of a failed marriage of 16 years … and I finally let go of that," she said. "When I came here, I was hurting."
Andrew, meanwhile, went to Guatemala on a mission trip last July, the summer before his senior year. While there, he contracted "some kind of amoeba dysentery," said his father.
The sickness worsened on his return home, and severely weakened his kidney. "His kidney function went down really low, to about 20 percent on that one little kidney," said Mr. Knight.
"That was the turning point. The doctors realized we really needed to talk about transplant," he said.
When Andrew returned to school this past fall, he had stabilized but was nonetheless quite ill.
"He looked sick. He looked really bad," said Mrs. Dukes.
Seeing the Knights' suffering, she said, "put in perspective my pain, that I may have been through some rough things, but I never had to look at one of my children and know there was a possibility of them dying, and I couldn't do anything about it."
The Knights went to their immediate family, looking for a possible kidney donor, but found no match. Kidney stones prevented Mr. Knight from donating one of his kidneys.
"We actually never asked anyone to consider donating," said Mr. Knight. "We simply brought it to our church and our school and said 'Please pray for Andrew. This is the situation. Pray that God will provide.'"
The first one to step forward was Mrs. Dukes.
"I looked at her and said: 'Bonnie, are you sure you want to do this? Think real serious about this,'" said Mr. Knight.
"She looked at me and said, 'I want to do this,'" he recalled.
"Bonnie is a remarkable person," he said. "She has a real love for people. She's gone through some tough times in her life, but even with all that, she's a very giving person, and I think a lot of that comes from her relationship with the Lord."
Andrew was excited when he learned of Mrs. Dukes' decision. "I was like, wow. That's really cool."
In December, the final tests came back, and they learned that Mrs. Dukes qualified to be a donor.
"I thought I'll get to know my teacher better she'll be a part of me," he said. "Now I look at her [differently] because she's going to save my life."
Mrs. Dukes said her decision to give her student a kidney was easy. "It was a natural decision. … He's not just somebody else. He's one of my students, a fantastic kid who has the rest of his life to live."
Mrs. Dukes knows there could be a risk to her own health, but that thought didn't cause her pause.
"What I'm doing could affect my life, but I've lived a good life, a rewarding and fulfilling life, and I have no regrets. And if I can give that opportunity to Andrew, because he has so much time ahead of him, then it's what I want to do," she said.
The senior will play baseball this spring, but if anything goes wrong with his kidney, the surgery could take place at any time.
Andrew sat in Mrs. Dukes' literature class one recent morning, as she led a discussion comparing Arthurian legend with the movie, "First Knight."
A small woman, half Italian and half English, she was full of energy, her voice worn from having been raised too often to conquer chattering teen-agers.
She mused on the fate of Guinevere, King Arthur's wife, whose betrayal was punished with solitude.
"Probably more painful than dying is to live your life alone," she said.


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