Naperville couple a perfect match as wife donates one of her kidneys to her husband
Aaron and Tonya Rhoden are living proof of the perfect match.
Three years after getting married in 2016, Aaron Rhoden suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with failing kidneys. He needed to find a matching organ donor or endure a lifetime of dialysis treatments.
In stepped Tonya, who immediately underwent the process of determining if she could be a donor.
She knew their hearts were a match, but the kidneys proved to be a more scientific path to traverse.
After an arduous process, Tonya was cleared as a match and the two underwent surgery on June 21. Four months later, both have recovered as quickly as could be expected.
Aaron and Tonya's incredible story will be highlighted during today's 36th Annual Gift of Life Gala hosted by the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois.
They're feeling great. And grateful.
They even named the kidney Taron as a tribute to their mutual journey.
"I wouldn't wish it on anyone because it's not an easy ride," Tonya Rhoden said. "But I feel very honored, and I always get really emotional when I think about it.
"My 'yes' was out of love, but there are so many everyday people that can say 'yes' and it can impact a man like Aaron," she said. "It can impact a family. So many of us have that power and that choice."
"Sometimes you're lucky," Aaron said. "Sometimes you're fortunate. And other times you're just truly blessed. Based on all the experiences we've had, we are truly blessed."
The annual Gift of Life Gala will honor Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike and Katten, the organization's corporate award winner.
The cocktail hour for the gala starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, followed by dinner at 7. In-person tickets, which can be purchased at www.nkfi.org/gala, cost $300, while a virtual ticket costs $150 to benefit the efforts of the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois.
A KidneyMobile also will be on site from 5 to 7 p.m. to assist people who want to learn about kidney screenings and health initiatives.
"(The Rhodens' story) is so important because it really inspires people," said foundation CEO Jacqueline Burgess-Bishop. "They inspire people to know there's hope. It raises awareness in reference with kidney disease and the opportunity for organ donation and, in this case, the wonderful gift from a living donor."
Aaron Rhoden had dealt with high blood pressure for years leading up to the stroke, saying it was a slow descent with his health as he suffered issues with his eyes and legs due to stage four chronic kidney disease. Medication helped him avoid dialysis until April of this year, and he received his wife's kidney a few months later.
The June surgery was in a window where elective surgeries were more widely available during the COVID-19 pandemic. If not for his wife, Rhoden's wait for a new kidney could have been two to five years.
"It's like two people meeting on a bus, falling in love and happening to be a match," Aaron Rhoden said. "The mathematics are somewhere between 1 in 50 and 1 in 100,000 in terms of the probability of being a match. So we are very, very compatible."
Tonya Rhoden worked with NKFI dietitian Dr. Melissa Prest to lose 25 pounds and get in the kind of shape required to handle the surgery. Because of the invasiveness of the procedure, Aaron recovered more slowly than Tonya.
After initially struggling with a walker, Aaron now can walk two miles a day and keeps improving.
They've already endured numerous "for better or worse" moments during their marriage, but now they must prepare for a new era: living healthy lives together.
"We had wonderful support from the community and family members that traveled," Tonya said. "Once you get something in your mind and it's a loved one, you do anything and everything you can on your end. And you've got to give the rest to God."