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2 Living Organ Donors From B-N Save Mom and Colleague

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Kelly Stogner
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April Post, left, and Kelly Stogner await surgery. In Illinois, 4,027 people are on a waiting list for an organ and 3,383 are waiting for a kidney.

A single mom lives to raise her child. A man gets to live pain free and play with his grandchildren. Organ donors in Bloomington-Normal made it possible.

Doctors often procure organs from people who have just died. Sometimes though, the donors get to see the lives they touch.

April Post of Normal is one of those lives. She is a busy single mom who is living her best life -- a life made possible due to a kidney transplant she received through organ donor Kelly Stogner at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria in December 2019.

“Of course, when I woke up I was groggy and in pain, but I had so much energy. I just felt energized when I woke up and I was so hungry. When I was on dialysis I had no appetite, so when I woke up I ordered food right away,” said Post.

Post was on an organ donation list, but took it upon herself to find her kidney. She even had a sign made up to put in the back window of her car. 

Stogner works at Heartland Community College. Her boss and Heartland President Keith Cornille also donated a kidney in 2013, something that brings them closer. Both Cornille and Stogner said they rarely think about their procedure.

“You go on living your life. You did what you did and you helped somebody out. They’re living their life and you're living your life,” said Stogner. 

Added Cornille: “You don’t think about it day-to-day and part of that is because we don’t have to take the medications, we didn’t have the hardship that someone else has had.”

Stogner came across a video on social media that shared Post’s search for a kidney. Post was diagnosed with kidney failure due to a birth defect. Stogner saw herself in Post and learned in September 2019 that she was a match. 

“She was about my age, she was a mom, she had a young child ... of course my child was not young at the time, which was one of things that helped the decision for me because I didn’t have anyone young at home to take care of. I did feel like I could give her something that would help her fully enjoy her life with her daughter,” said Stogner. 

Cornille’s transplant recipient was a colleague back in Wisconsin. Cornille said he worked two doors down  and saw the pain he was in every day. One day, he decided to see if he was a match. 

“You can see what it is doing to them. I got to see it every single day. What are you going to do? Just not try? I felt like I had to try at least. Going into it you get tested, you don’t know if you are a match or not, and then all of a sudden you’re a match and you’re like, ‘OK, now we have to get serious with this.’ For me, to know that this man got to spend more days with his grandchildren and listen to them, laugh with them and help them grow up ... that’s kind of what drove me,” said Cornille. 

Cornille said he still gets together with his recipient and the two remain close. The pair usually gets together for Kidney Day. For them that’s in June.

“At the hospital, his room was right across from mine. He came over to see me right afterwards. We had a friendship and we continue to have the friendship today. We talk very often, try to go golfing together when we can,” siad Cornille.

Stogner and Post are not as close. The pair has met a few times post-surgery. Stogner said recipients may not continue a relationship after the transplant.  

“I think they’re very grateful for the gift and the new life they have but they would like to look more towards the future than to the past. So I don’t want to be the person that brings up, ‘Oh here I am, look what I did.’ We’ll get together once in a while and check in, but for the most part she’s living her life and I’m living mine,” said Stogner.

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Credit Kelly Stogner
Donor Kelly Stogner (foreground) with April Post hiking six months after the transplant surgery.

Post said once you are on that list, you can start looking to see if you can find a living donor. Post also had a kidney transplant over 20 years ago.

“Through fault of my own I was not following up with my nephrologist and so five years ago I decided to follow up again and found out my kidneys were starting to fail again,” said Post.

Post said the surgery isn’t that complex, and she encourages people who are struggling with making the decision to donate to remember you are saving a life. 

“You have two kidneys. You can live perfectly fine on one,” said Post. “Why not donate that other kidney if it is going to help somebody? Especially a mom who is single and really needs this to help take care of her child. Nobody deserves to be sick, and if you can help them, why not?” 

Post, who works at the McLean County Health Department as a contact tracer, said people who are in need of organ donation need to speak out. 

“A lot of people that have kidney failure, they’re afraid to ask people if they can donate a kidney. I don’t know if it is pride, if they’re just scared that these people won’t help them, or they’re afraid the donor will get sick down the road. But you don’t have to be scared. Just reach out,” said Post. 

Post said even if you go to donate and you find out you're not a match, you can still donate and that person you wanted to save will move higher up on the list because the person who received your donation moves off the list. 

This “kidney swap” is called Kidney Paired Donation, which is an approach to living donor kidney transplantation where patients with incompatible donors swap kidneys to receive a compatible kidney.

Cornille said donors need to understand the risk is limited.

“Sometimes you have to put your hands in faith. If something happens to me and I need a kidney then I’ll address that when we get to it. When you get to help somebody that is truly needing it, there’s no better feeling in the world,” said Cornille.

Usually, organ donors are placed higher on the list if down the line they are in need of an organ. Cornille and Stogner said donors are asked if they wish to proceed before being wheeled into the operating room. Stogner said she was out hiking a few weeks after her operation. 

April is National Donate Life Month. More than 100,000 men, women and children in the United States are waiting for life-saving organ transplants. Each day, 20 people die because the organ they need is not donated in time.

  

Catrina Petersen is an intern at WGLT focused on reporting and online writing. She is also a student in Illinois State University's School of Communication.