A Living Kidney Donor's Roller Coaster of Hope

Written by Jill Dillon, Living Kidney Donor

Living Kidney Donor It was September of 2009 and I was seeing patients during a typical busy day in my optometry practice. My mid-morning patient was a guy by the name of Lonnie who I had known on both a professional and personal level for about eight years. During the course of his exam, he mentioned that he was going to need a kidney transplant very soon.

It was at that moment that I had one of the most amazing experiences in my life. Immediately, I heard a voice in my head very clearly say, “tell him you will give him one of yours”. And so I did! He laughed and said he could never ask me to do that. We continued on with the routine exam and even though I’d just experienced something remarkable, I continued on with my day. It seemed like nothing really “happened” but it was in that moment that a seed was planted.

Everything in its Time

Although I was sure it was the right thing to do, several months passed without any word from Lonnie. In March of 2010, Lonnie returned to my office for his six month checkup. I hadn’t forgotten that voice in my head from his last visit, and I reminded him of my offer. With tears in his eyes he told me that if I was serious he and his wife Ginger would get me the paperwork to get started. Soon after, my husband Mike and I headed to the hospital for a donor evaluation. We left with the promise that they would be in touch.

After a few weeks of phone calls, transplant team meetings, and further medical tests the hospital finally approved our case! Our surgery date was set for July 13, 2010. I was beyond excited! Lonnie was thrilled that he was finally going to get his life-saving organ. All was right in our world – and then suddenly it fell apart.

Two weeks passed by, and Lonnie was going through a routine CT scan. The CT showed a mass on one of his kidneys and the doctors were sure it was cancer. We were devastated. The next few days were a whirlwind of emotions, filled with fear and prayer. Then the call came to with the words, “It’s NOT cancer!” We were thrilled for the good news and happy that the transplant was back on... or so we thought.

Waiting on a Phone Call

One day just before we were heading down for our pre-op appointments, we received a phone call from the hospital. They were canceling our appointments and deferring our surgeries. In what seemed like an instant the hospital had dismissed us from their care and Lonnie was told they could not approve him for a transplant at all.

Struck with confusion, I sat down one night wondering why on earth this had all happened this way. I searched the internet for options for Lonnie and myself and UW Hospital had my answer! Their website stated clearly that they do cases that other hospitals have turned down. Full of hope I contacted them immediately. The following day, a transplant coordinator called to tell me the good news. UW had agreed to have Lonnie and I come to the hospital to be evaluated. Upon evaluation we received the wonderful news that Lonnie and I could indeed go through with the transplant process. Once again we were on top of the world.


Blessings in Disguise

Then came the difficult news that left us in disbelief. In doing our testing, UW realized that Lonnie and I were not actually a good match. The cancellation of our previous surgery had actually ended up being a blessing in disguise! Thankful for the discovery but feeling helpless, I stood by as Lonnie went on the deceased donor transplant list. I wanted to help but I didn’t know what to do, so I reluctantly went on with my life, knowing that there had to be something more to this story.

In November of 2010 I received a call from UW telling me that they were joining the National Kidney Swap Program. They needed our permission to enter us into the program, and we agreed. Hope was again renewed! UW set us all up and we were sure this is how we would get the transplant Lonnie so needed. Just two short months later on January 11, 2011 Lonnie received a call a kidney was available for him through the deceased donor program. Unsure of how much longer he could wait, UW encouraged him to take the opportunity.

On January 12, I traveled to be with his family as he went through the surgery. It was a great success and he continues to do well to this day.

The Right Opportunity

Families_MeetingThankful that he was able to receive the gift of life, even though I couldn’t be the donor, Lonnie’s surgery left me with a spare kidney that I wasn’t sure how to share. I took months to pray about it, talk to my husband and other friends and family, and research my options.

Finally in May of 2011 I decided to become a non-directed donor and perhaps kick off a donor chain. Two days later I was telling this to a co-worker at my office. She just smiled and said she knew of a girl named Sara who needed a kidney. The next night Sara and I connected via Facebook and finding out that we both had blood samples at UW, I promised her I would contact UW on Monday to get the process moving.

UW told us it could be up to two weeks until we had an answer, but just three days later I received a phone call telling me that Sara and I were a great match! Two months later, on July 21, 2011, our transplant took place.

Speaking_EngagementIt was amazing how quickly it all finally happened after the months of roller coaster emotions. When I look back on my story, I can see that God was taking me on a journey of a lifetime. Through it all I gained two new families through Lonnie and Sara. And I gained so much more emotionally than what I ever gave up physically. Now I am passionate about organ and tissue donation, and have made it a mission to spread the word on how others can use what they have been given to help others in need.

- Jill and Lonnie an hour after he received his kidney transplant
- Jill next to her name on the Living Donor Wall at UW Hospital
- Jill and Sara and their families
- Sara, kidney recipient, and Jill


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Meet Jill

Jill is a 41 year old optometrist from Nekoosa, Wisconsin. She is the wife of Mike and mother of two boys, Josh, 14, and Isaiah, 11. In 2009 she embarked on an incredible journey that culminated in her ultimately becoming a living kidney donor on July 21, 2011.

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