Sharing Life

August 2021 View more

By Alison Bowen

Aaron and Tonya Rhoden always have big ideas together. They eloped in Hawaii in 2016, when he proposed at sunset on a mountain in Maui, and she wanted to get married the very next day.

Preparing for a kidney transplant is another life challenge the couple is tackling together. In a June surgery, Tonya, 41, gave Aaron, 50, one of her kidneys.

It was a big moment for the Naperville couple, left in a holding pattern since a 2019 stroke left Aaron partially without the use of his right side and awaiting a kidney transplant while he underwent dialysis multiple times a week.
They hope the surgery will help them get back to the things they love: traveling places, climbing mountains, swinging golf clubs, and seeing family. They also hope it can show people that everyone is the same under our skin. The couple says in a time of racial tension, with so much negative news happening, they want to remind people to be kind.

“Ordinary people can do extraordinary acts of kindness and love and actually save someone’s life,” Aaron said.
His doctor, Joseph Leventhal, interim chief of organ transplantation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said their situation is somewhat unusual. Transplants involving a spouse or life partner are only a little over 10 percent of living donor transplants, he said. Beyond this, because the couple is interracial, their match is extra unique because ethnicity can affect tissue type.

“The ability of Tonya to be blood type compatible and a suitable match for her husband, it beat the odds,” he said.
Their situation, Leventhal said, might dispel some myths around organ donation. People do not need to be blood related, or the same ethnicity.

This story originally appeared in our sister publication, the Chicago Tribune, and is reprinted with permission.

Photo by Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune