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“Buckle up, we’re gonna do this again;” Liver donor prepares to donate kidney nearly two years later

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — A woman who donated her liver in February 2019 is preparing to donate a kidney in January 2021.

WCIA first introduced you to Renee Sample, a grandmother with poly cystic kidney disease, back in May this year. She was on dialysis and on a waiting list for a deceased kidney donor. The list was several years long, and Sample feared she didn’t have that kind of time.

As it turned out, an “Angel Among Us” was watching.

Early last year, Jody Wilkey shared her story with WCIA’s Jennifer Roscoe. In 1983, the then 20-year-old had a chance encounter with a girl on her flight to Spain.

Wilkey and Kari Kielblock kept in touch for a few years after that, but the two eventually lost contact after getting married and taking on their husbands’ last names. In the summer of 2018, Wilkey wrote about her dream trip to Spain and the friend she made, tagging her in the post with the hopes that Kielblock would see it.

She did.

The two started writing and talking once again. Kielblock, now Huseth, eventually told Wilkey she was dying and desperately needed a liver transplant. A living donor was her best chance at survival. Wilkey told her she wanted to help. Final testing at Mayo Clinic revealed she was a match and they had the green light to move forward with surgery.

Wilkey said it was an amazing experience that she wanted to repeat.

“I know I couldn’t do my liver,” Wilkey said. “So they [doctors] said, if you really want to do this again, you can donate a kidney if you want to.”

Wilkey said she kept that in the back of her mind, but wondered how she would find someone who needs a kidney.

“And that’s where you come in,” she said. “Because then, fast forward to May of this year, and I always watch Channel 3 news. And I was watching it at 10:00, and lo and behold, there was a story about a lady named Renee Sample that you had done, and she needed a kidney. I thought, “Facebook to the rescue.”

Wilkey reached out to Sample, sharing a link to the story WCIA had aired about Wilkey’s liver donation. The two met for a socially distanced lunch outside this summer, and Wilkey went through the vetting process to donate once again. She was approved.

“She’s just an incredible human being,” Sample said. “I’m almost still kind of – not really in shock – just amazed that somebody would come forward like that to a stranger.”

Sample recalled the awe she experienced meeting Wilkey for lunch.

“I looked at her and she’s just kind of like, ‘What? What?’ I said, ‘I’m looking for your halo,’ and she says, ‘Oh, stop it,’ because she’s humble. She’s very humble.”

“I feel like God has really blessed me with wonderful health,” Wilkey said. “Not everybody can say that, and there’s a lot of people who can’t. If I can share some of my good health with somebody else, then why would I not want to do that? So here we go. Buckle up, we’re gonna do this again.”

Wilkey said in addition to lunch, she’s also kept in touch with Sample’s daughter over Facebook.

“Her daughter has really impressed upon me how much this means to them that Grandma’s still going to be around for a long time, you know?” Wilkey said. “I know how much my grandkids mean to me. If the shoe were on the other foot and somebody was helping me stick around for them longer, that would mean that’s the greatest gift.”

The two are scheduled for surgery January 18.

According to the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, roughly 3,400 people are waiting for kidney donations in Illinois right now.

To learn more about how to be a living donor, click here.


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