"You've got a kidney."
Those were the words the Moritz family of Streator had been longing to hear, and their wish came true Thursday morning. Nineteen-year-old Lance Moritz was getting a kidney.
Moritz was born with tuberous sclerosis, which causes benign tumors to grow on organs. In an out of hospitals for most of his life, the farmer and ag student understood he would eventually need a kidney transplant.
Doctors have monitored Moritz’s kidney function since he was 7 following renal bypass surgery to restore blood flow to one kidney. About a month ago, his family learned Moritz’s kidneys were only functioning at 10-12%.
Knowing he would be moving from inactive to active status on the national transplant list and unsure of the wait for a kidney, Moritz turned to social media for help - he asked people to consider being a living kidney donor.
Doctors inserted a catheter so he could receive at-home dialysis, which he started last week.
Then, just days after being moved to active status, the call from OSF Transplant Services came. They located a kidney from an organ donor, and Lance needed to be at the Peoria hospital that same morning.
"It was a perfect match," said Lance's mother, Mary, from her son's hospital room Monday afternoon.
The surgery, which was performed Thursday night, took about five hours. After some grogginess Friday and Saturday, Lance now takes regular walks around the hospital, and said he's ready to go home.
"It still doesn't seem real," he said. "I'm going home, I feel great, all my numbers are pretty decent."
Mary said since the surgery, Lance's health is "making leaps and bounds."
"It's truly a Christmas miracle," she said.
But Mary and Lance can't help but think of what was lost for Lance to receive a kidney.
"You're blessed with this wonderful gift yet someone just lost a loved one," said Mary, who says she's talked with the family's pastor about her struggle to wrap her head around the situation. "There is a family grieving."
Through the Gift of Hope - an organ and tissue donor organization - the Moritz family has an opportunity reach out to the donor's family, which Mary said they plan to do in the future.
Still waiting on tests Monday afternoon, Mary and Lance hoped they could head home later that day or the next. The road to recovery will be long. In the months to come, they'll make regular trips to Peoria for checkups.
For the next six to eight weeks, Lance can only be around his immediate family - mother, father and younger sister - to minimize risk for infection. However, the family is grateful to spend the holiday together.
"We'll be hibernating," Mary said, laughing.
Both Lance and Mary said they were overwhelmed with joy at the response from friends, family and even strangers after Lance's story was published and shared thousands of times on social media.
"I want to thank all the people that have reached out," Mary said. "And the ag community ... this is beyond my wildest dreams. Across the nation, farmers are one huge family."
Just two hours after arriving at the Peoria hospital Thursday, a transplant team member handed them a card from an Illinois woman they didn't recognize. Mary said she was perplexed - only immediate family knew where they were. The card-sender wrote that she and her late husband had farmed for 38 years and while he was alive, they would both play secret Santa - both choosing a new giftee each Christmas. This year, the woman chose Lance as her recipient. Enclosed was a $100 check and a Dec. 6 newspaper clipping from FarmWeek about Lance's search for a donor.
The woman's daughter also reached out to Lance via Facebook messenger, and he was able to share his good news.
Mary also received messages from people in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Texas and Illinois asking for more information about testing to be a donor for Lance. A few even wrote to say they reached out to OSF but were unfortunately rejected during the screening or testing.
"All the people reaching out, I don't even know where to begin ... the amount of people that checked in on me," Lance said.
Word spread quickly in the ag community, as Streator agriscience teacher Riley Hintzsche and Mary's sister, Taylorville FFA Adviser Sue Schafer, kept FFA members and alumni up to date on Lance's surgery via social media.
Ultimately, a donation from a living donor wasn't needed, but Mary hopes Lance's story has and will create more awareness about organ donation. In her town of 14,000, Mary notes she knows of five people who have had kidney transplants.
"So it's not as uncommon as you might think it is, which is all the more reason to be an organ donor," she said.
The Illinois Valley