Steamboat Springs Hayden preacher Doug Zirkle’s passion throughout life has been to serve others, so asking for help does not come easily as he battles a serious health problem.
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” Zirkle said. “I want to help. It’s real hard.”
Zirkle, 52, was diagnosed in 1980 with Type 1 diabetes, which typically inflicts otherwise healthy children and young adults and usually is managed with insulin. The need for a kidney transplant did not become apparent until after he suffered a heart attack in September 2010. He was put on the donor list this past November, but Zirkle and his wife of 28 years, Lisa Zirkle, 52, have been told it might be five years before a kidney becomes available from a deceased donor. But the couple does not know if they have that much time and are hoping someone living would consider donating a spare kidney that Doug Zirkle’s body will accept.
Zirkle said he has been trying to keep his medical condition quiet because he did not want the attention, especially as a preacher who devotes himself to helping people resolve problems and work toward their ambitions.
“We just want to be an invisible help,” Doug Zirkle said.
He is more concerned with the others that are going through a similar ordeal.
“It’s weird and uncomfortable,” Zirkle said.
He could need dialysis starting any day. He said he is weak, and there are days when he can hardly do anything. His youngest daughter, Caroline, 11, once had to help him put on his shoes.
Throughout the hardships, Doug Zirkle has only missed preaching once because of illness, his wife said.
For some, one day is too much.
Those who care about Zirkle want him to get the transplant and are sick of keeping quiet.
“He’s like, ‘I’m not any more important than any of the other people that need a kidney,’” Lisa Zirkle said. “But I’m not married to any of those other people. I don’t feel desperate, but obviously, there is a sense of urgency.”
The 100 congregation members at the Mission of Grace Baptist Church also have expressed their support in part because Doug Zirkle is viewed as an important figure in their community.
“He’s buried and married a lot of people over 15 years,” said Kevin Kleckler, who is a church elder leading an effort to raise $25,000 to help the Zirkle family with expenses. The church has raised $13,000, and people can donate through the Mission of Grace Baptist Church kidney fund set up at the First National Bank of the Rockies.
Kleckler hopes there is someone out there that might be willing to donate a kidney that is a suitable match.
“He’s lives his life by stewardship and leadership,” Kleckler said. “The gift that God gave him was the gift or encouragement.”
The Zirkles moved to Hayden from Texas in 1998. The church was in need of a pastor and contacted Doug Zirkle, who was working in business and was not looking to pastor a church or move, but he agreed to come to Hayden and preach once. He ended up staying because he found the community to be like family.
Doug Zirkle took the church’s leadership role, but he was hesitant about taking on the responsibilities that go along with being known as the town’s pastor. That changed, though, when he presided over his first funeral, which was for an 18-year-old man that had drowned in the Yampa River.
“It was a tragedy, but it was an honor to do the eulogy and minister to the family,” Doug Zirkle said. “Little did I know that’s what we would be getting into, but we adjusted.”
Nearly 14 years later, the Zirkles and their four children still are proud to call Hayden home.
To help, Lisa Zirkle established a website, www.thestoryofdoug.com, to allow people to offer encouragement, educate people about his situation and to let them know what her husband is all about. This is one way she describes him:
“People talk about ‘real.’ Doug is ‘real.’ It’s a challenge to be who you are, and he perseveres in that.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com