Margaret's Musings: Valentine’s Day - An unlikely remembranceFeb. 14 is a day my parents never forget, even at this stage of their lives. It was that day in 1960 when my right kidney was removed.
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
Feb. 14 is a day my parents never forget, even at this stage of their lives. It was that day in 1960 when my right kidney was removed. Since then each year my parents have sent me flowers. At the time and for many years later, we all thought it was the day that saved my life. Perhaps it was. However, it is not uncommon for a person to live their entire life with one kidney.
This column is not about me; it is about two men who have been tied together for the last three years because one became a living kidney donor for the other.
Chris was 35, in the prime of his life, married with children and faced a seven-year wait for a kidney on the state of Illinois transplant list.
Many people came forward for the first screening. Five moved on to the blood work and three became finalists. The best match was none other than Chris’ brother-in-law Mike, his wife’s youngest brother, age 23 at the time. Because of Mike’s donation Chris was able to avoid dialysis, giving him the chance for a better outcome.
Fast forward to November of 2010: The annual Yorkville Economic Development Committee’s banquet and raffle offered as a grand prize, a trip to the Super Bowl; two airfares, six nights at a hotel and two game tickets.
The keynote speaker for the evening was Connie Payton, the widow of renowned Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton. She had earlier sweetened the prize by adding an invitation to the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year luncheon. It is held each year during the Super Bowl activities and is considered one of the most coveted events to attend. The guest list is limited to around 35 people.
Chris, who had purchased six tickets, won the grand prize and invited Mike to go with him. It was shortly after that their personal Super Bowl odyssey began.
Weeks after the raffle Chris called to confirm their names with the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. When the Payton family discovered that Chris and Mike were both a recipient and a donor, things changed.
Walter Payton essentially died of a rare liver disease while waiting for a liver donor. Since then the family, having established the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, has worked tirelessly in many avenues regarding organ donations, education and legislation as well as helping thousands of underprivileged children.
The Walter Payton Liver Center at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago is also part of their legacy.
It was because of Chris’ and Mike’s unique relationship that the Payton family literally took them under their wing for what can only be considered a whirlwind of activity neither of them will forget.
Due to the blizzard, they arrived in Dallas a day late but it did not stop them from attending many events with members of the Payton family including Walter’s and Connies’ son Jarrett and daughter Brittany.
During the Man of the Year luncheon, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell personally introduced himself to each and every person in attendance. The three finalists for the award were introduced during the luncheon. Two of them were in attendance, Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders and Israel Idonije of the Chicago Bears. The winner, Madieu Williams, announced on game day, was Skyped in to the luncheon from Afghanistan where he was with the troops. The award is based on what the players do outside of the NFL.
“It was very humbling,” said Chris. “It is a year of work for the Payton family and they do it with open arms.”
It was, however, the chance to talk about organ donation with the Payton Family that kept coming up.
Jarrett Payton, Walter’s son, was very impressed that, at the age of 23, Mike would consider donating an organ.
Chris and Mike ended up attending several pre-Super Bowl events including one hosted by infamous sports agent Leigh Steinburg. Nearly all of the events are used to raise money for various charities and a number of NFL greats were in attendance at every event.
The last event, which was the icing on the cake for Chris and Mike was Jarrett Payton inviting and taking them to Jim McMahon’s (former QB of the Chicago Bears) party on Saturday night.
In a twist of irony, they did not attend the game. It turned out that broker never actually had the tickets. So Chris and Mike attended a tailgate party at the stadium and when the weather took a turn they ended up watching the remainder of the game in lounge area of their hotel.
The more important lesson that came out of the week was that the two of them helped educate many people about organ donation.
Chris recommends getting the facts from a medical professional, being prepared, including your desires about organ donation in your will, on your license and making sure your family members know what you desire and consider being a living donor as well.
“Once you find out the truth, it is pretty amazing,” said Chris. Both his and Mike’s surgery were done laparoscopically. They were both back to work two weeks after the surgery.
“This was also a great way to give back to Mike,” said Chris, of the week-long event. The two men will forever be tied together not only as relatives but having the unique connection of organ donor and recipient.