On May 15, she gave him a kidney and a new lease on life.
“Parents do so much for their children,” she said. “It’s not often that children get to do something as significant.”
Bernita, 46, found out last fall that after years of diabetes and high blood pressure, and a small stroke in 2009, her 74-year-old father’s kidneys had failed.
Her mother, Navoria Reese, said her husband of 55 years was adamant about not going on dialysis.
“He said, ‘I would rather die than go on dialysis every day,’ ” she recalled Wednesday.
Late last November, Bernita accompanied her parents on a visit to Dr. Mazen Abdalla at Conyers’ DaVita Dialysis Center.
By then, her father’s last functioning kidney was operating at 14 percent and he was getting visibly weaker.
She listened to the doctor trying to persuade him to go on dialysis.
Finally she spoke up.
“I will give him a kidney,” she said.
Three pairs of shocked eyes turned to her, the youngest of the couple’s three living children.
“Are you sure?” asked her father, who retired on Nov. 5 after 42 years of ministry and passed the baton to his son, Stewart the 3rd.
Bernita, who lives in Ellenwood and is a supervisor in the DeKalb Parks and Recreation Department, had her mind made up and wasn’t going to be swayed.
Tests proved her a perfect match, and in February, doctors persuaded her father to go on dialysis to enhance his chance at a successful transplantation.
When the two checked into Emory Hospital for the surgery, her mother was besieged with fear for Bernita and the bishop.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Navoria Reese said. “I prayed and fasted and prayed.”
Within days after the surgery, her husband began improving. First his color came back, then his strength.
On Wednesday, five weeks after the surgery, Reese said he is feeling great.
“The doctor said I would feel like a 45-year-old man,” he said. “I don’t remember what it felt like when I was 45, but I sure feel good.”
Reese said his daughter’s selfless gift came because they are a close family.
“Bernita knows we would do anything for her,” he said.
On Father’s Day on June 17, the Reeses will be in high spirits.
Lavoria Reese, the family’s oldest daughter, said they will celebrate at their parents’ Covington home instead of going out to eat.
She has been cooking for her sister and her father to help them regain their strength and will reign over the stove again on Sunday.
The gathering will include all the kids – Belinda, the widow of her brother Norman, his son Norman and grandson Devon; Lavoria’s daughters Nicole Sanders and Naomi Reese-Colbert; and brother Stewart, his wife, Wanda, their daughters Cassia and Carma, and son Stewart the 4th.
“This year is going to be over the top,” said Lavoria, who is a gospel singer.
“We are going to be grateful for life for my father and for the kindness of my sister and the sacrifice she has made.”
Donating a kidney is not without its discomfort, but whenever Bernita feels pain, she thinks of her father’s progress.
“To see him happy,” she said. “To see life extended for him, I would do it all over again. I am just so happy that he is going to be here.”
Her father said she has given him the ultimate gift.
“She gave me a part of her life,” he said.