At 29 years old, Zac’s lifelong mysterious illness would finally come in to focus. He had always believed something was wrong in his body, but his religious family insisted he pray away his ailments without allowing for traditional doctor visits. He grew up to become a youth pastor in a Christian megachurch, finding fortune and fame within his community. But during the last few years of his 20s the feeling that something was wrong intensified. He started gaining weight, found himself freezing even in hot weather, and was experiencing weakness and exhaustion while his skin was slowly turning yellow. In desperation he went to a naturopath, who took one look at his blood pressure and rushed Zac to the hospital. There it was discovered that Zac was in full renal failure, with only one third of the blood volume normal to someone his size. Due to a congenital defect, his kidneys had ballooned to the size of footballs and become riddled with cysts while completely shutting down. He was immediately given 7 blood transfusions and started dialysis, a process which filters excess fluid, waste and toxins from the bloodstream. When doctors told him his life would never be the same, Zac couldn’t help but feel relieved that a lifetime of intuition regarding his health had been validated.

In this episode of the Major Pain podcast, Zac walks us through his incredible journey surviving renal failure and his subsequent kidney transplant. He explains how these experiences intertwined with his decision to leave his megachurch behind and find a new path. For almost 3 years he survived without kidney function while on dialysis, and it was during those long hours of forced stillness that Zac began to question his relationship to the church. The companionship of other dialysis patients showed him ways of life and reality outside his religious upbringing. But even while his religious faith was being shaken, the church community rallied behind him with several shockingly generous offers to donate a kidney. Zac ended up receiving a kidney from a fellow youth pastor and close friend, giving him the opportunity to once again live a mostly healthy life. As a transplant recipient Zac became the custodian of an incredible gift, an organ that requires a lifetime commitment of care, requiring immunosuppressant medication every 12 hours to prevent rejection. Zac shares the complicated feelings of receiving so much support from his church community, while also becoming disillusioned after realizing the megachurch dogma was designed to profit those in charge at the expense of the congregation. His decision to leave opened up new pathways towards happiness and fulfillment, while severing not only financial security but countless relationships both personal and professional. Still, while looking back on everything he’s experienced, Zac considers kidney failure to be the moment that made his dream life possible, allowing him to let go of indoctrination and discover new layers of identity.

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