Parishioners and former co-workers of the Reverend Curtis W. Frye Jr. are rallying around him as he faces a serious health problem.
The 59-year-old Rev. Frye, who since 2007 has been the pastor of the Mashpee Baptist Church, in August began home dialysis for kidney failure, an impact of diabetes. He lost sight in his left eye. A few years back, he survived a heart attack. Out of every 24-hour period, he must spend nearly 12 hours on a dialysis machine at home. That time-consuming and exhausting task forced him to quit his job of 17 years as a safety officer and purchasing manager at Island Airlines in Hyannis a month ago.
Through it all, he has continued to conduct Sunday worship services, visit people in hospitals, nursing homes, and prison, and coordinate prayer meetings with other churches. Still going strong is his “stuffed animal ministry,” bringing stuffed animals to children at Falmouth Hospital.
“I can see how bad he is feeling sometimes, when he has trouble just getting up to the altar,” said Wayne Jackson, a parishioner. “Once he is there, he is strong.”
Rev. Frye has been told by doctors that dialysis is making it harder to control his blood sugar and is hard on his heart. The national wait list for a kidney that would match his blood type is seven to nine years long, he said. He suffered a setback early this year when a close relative who was found to be a match decided not to go through with the donation.
Church members have raised a few thousand dollars for a fund that will help pay travel expenses for the person who donates a kidney to Rev. Frye. Several parishioners said they want to spread the word that a donor is needed but were at a loss for how to do it. Seven members of the choir offered to be donors, but none were matches.
“We’re getting so worried,” said church member Lolita C. McCray. “If he doesn’t get a kidney, we don’t know what will happen.”
The travel fund is not the only thing the parishioners have done. Last year, Rev. Frye mentioned that the power at his Quashnet Road home would frequently cut out for short periods of time, causing his dialysis machine to stop working. Church members raised the money to purchase a $9,000 “no-gap” generator, which was installed in his home in November.
“My wife and I were in a state of shock,” Rev. Frye said in an interview in his living room, surrounded by artwork that represents his Mashpee Wampanoag heritage. “There’s a lot of love in that little church. They love me and I love them back. I would do anything for them.”
Several church members credit Rev. Frye with growing the church from 23 members in 2007 to 70 members today. A few times a year, the church is packed with more than 100 people, they said.
“It’s his honesty, his plain English,” Mr. Jackson said. “His sermon comes out so that everyone can hear it. He’s such a communicator. If there is friction, he straightens it out. He makes it feel like family.”
When Rev. Frye took the helm at the church five years ago, it was seen by many as a historic event. The Mashpee Baptist Church has served members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe since the 1830s, when the Wampanoag man Blind Joseph Amos was its leader. Rev. Frye is a descendent of Rev. Amos and sees himself as carrying on his tradition. About 25 members of the church today are tribe members, Mr. Frye said.
Colleagues from Island Airlines are helping Mr. Frye, too. Beatrice M. Mayer, the controller at the airline, organized a raffle of 30 gift baskets held at the VFW hall in Hyannis, raising more than $3,500. The money can be used to offset the expenses of a kidney donor. Now that Rev. Frye is no longer in the office each day, Ms. Mayer calls him twice a week to check on him.
“He’s an unbelievable person,” Ms. Mayer said. “Even though he’s in the condition he’s in, he looks after everyone else. He’s the best person to talk to when you have a problem.”
Another co-worker, Gisele M. Gosselin, said she already misses Rev. Frye’s sense of humor around the office. For a reason no one can remember, he started calling her Mrs. Potato Head a few years ago. She upped the ante by buying him a Mr. Potato Head toy.
“He’s a lot of fun,” she said. “We always joked.”
When she discovered that Rev. Frye shares her love of John Wayne movies, she bought videos for him to watch while doing dialysis.
Both Ms. Gosselin and Ms. Mayer were involved in a fundraiser to buy a bell for Rev. Frye’s church in 2009 in honor of his sister, who died in her early 40s.
“Anything we could do to help him,” Ms. Mayer said.
Now his friends and fellow church members are hoping that someone will step forward to donate a kidney.
“I would just hope that that would happen,” said Robert A. McManus, a church deacon and the choir director. “He has so much energy and such a vibrant mind, there’s no telling what he could do.”