From iffy first date to a literal 'perfect match' for kidney donation
Their one date in 2001, when Vikki Marazzo was a 15-year-old high school girl and Harl Morgan was a 19-year-old man, featured a walk around downtown St. Charles and a conclusion that he was just too old to be a good match for her.
Fate, and doctors, proved otherwise.
Reunited more than a decade later and married on Oct. 29, 2016, the couple came home from their honeymoon and Vikki went straight to the hospital emergency room with kidney failure. The Glen Ellyn woman needed a new kidney, and none of her relatives was a suitable candidate. Seven days before their first Christmas as a married couple, doctors called to say that Harl "was a 100 percent perfect match," Vikki says.
"You go to Pinterest and look at four-month or five-month anniversary gifts, and I never saw kidney," Vikki Morgan says with a laugh.
"It all became surreal when it comes back that I was a match," Harl says, noting that the decision to donate was a "no-brainer."
The first chapter of their storybook romance began at a swimming pool party. Harl's best friend dated Vikki's older sister, and Vikki played softball with the friend's younger sisters. "My sister brought me to the pool, and that was the picture," Vikki says, showing a photo of Harl wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with his arm around her.
"He asked me on a date, and I think I said two words," Vikki remembers.
"You were really shy," Harl says.
They didn't see each other or communicate with each other for a decade. A 2000 Glenbard West grad, Harl took some classes at College of DuPage, got a bachelor's degree at the now-defunct Westwood College in Woodridge, and became a union pipe fitter with Local 597. Vikki graduated in 2004 from the since-closed Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison, got a degree at Pivot Point hair, makeup and beauty school in Bloomingdale, and has been a hair stylist at The King's Barber Shop in Wheaton for the past seven years.
When Harl turned 30, he looked up Vikki on Facebook and sent her a friend request, which she accepted. Friends joke that he "stalked her."
"She changed her relationship from 'in a relationship' to 'ask,'" remembers Harl, who took her up on that suggestion.
"He asked me out to dinner," remembers Vikki, who initially said no but later figured, "If I go, he'll leave me alone."
They went to St. Charles again but this time ate at Wok N Fire, had a great time and started dating officially as of June 2, 2014. She told him she had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7, had developed kidney problems and would never be able to have children.
"It didn't change my thinking at all," Harl says. They got engaged in April 2016.
Vikki still was raving about the great mashed-potato bar at their wedding reception when she got very sick on their honeymoon. "I took a quick decline in health," remembers Vikki, who spent three days in the hospital.
Doctors called with the stunning news that her new husband was an ideal kidney donor, and Harl donated one of his kidneys to her on May 19, 2017.
The typical wait for a kidney transplant is seven years in Illinois, and the waiting list adds names every year, says Dr. Joseph Leventhal, director of kidney transplantation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which performed both Harl's and Vikki's operations. A kidney donated from a living donor can last more than 20 years, nearly twice as long as one donated through a death.
The donor must be in good health and a good match, but better medications have expanded the possibilities. "We can work around some of those compatibility issues," Leventhal says. If a donor isn't a match for a loved one, transplant teams organize swaps with other donors in what Leventhal calls "swaportunities." Harl was willing to donate to a stranger if that meant his wife would get a kidney from someone else, but there was no need.
"I was born with super kidney," says Harl, noting that doctors told him his kidneys were much larger than usual, which meant a bigger scar for Vikki, who remembers waking up in recovery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to see Harl.
"He came shuffling in in his hospital gown and blue rubberized socks, and for me, everything stopped," Vikki says, crying at the memory. "It was pretty awesome. I got my life back."
Her parents, Joe and Mary Lynn Marazzo of Bloomingdale, took care of them in their Glen Ellyn home with help from Harl's Uncle Jim and Aunt Sue Rozhon of Glendale Heights until they were healthy enough to return to work.
"I will live my life to the fullest every single day," Vikki promises Harl. "I'm proud of the sacrifice my husband made for me. He is my life. He is my family. He is my everything. God gave him to me."
On their first "kidneyversary," Vikki gave Harl a map of the stars as they appeared over Chicago at 7:13 p.m., May 19, 2017, when she woke up with a new kidney. They have matching T-shirts with hers reading, "He gave me a second chance at life," and his explaining, "Because she is my life."
Now 36 and 33, their once-troublesome age difference is forgotten, and they are about to celebrate even better news. "We're starting another chapter," Harl says. "And I wouldn't have it any other way."
The couple are expecting their first child, a girl who will be named Rosalie, on July 4. She'll join Omaha, a bluetick coonhound, and Freddie, a small Lab mix. The Morgans tell their story as a way to draw attention to the need for organ, eye and tissue donors.
Friends have said they should send their story to Ellen DeGeneres for an episode of her "Ellen" television show.
"We haven't," Vikki says, pausing before breaking into a wide grin and admitting, "It is cool though, and April is National Donate Life Month."
Match: Donating kidney was 'no-brainer,' husband says
To learn more about organ donationWith more than 100,000 people on the national waiting list for kidney transplants, the typical wait time in Illinois for a donated organ is seven years. Ally Hembd of Wheeling endures grueling dialysis treatments as she enters her fourth year on the waiting list. Vikki Morgan of Glen Ellyn regained her old life after her husband turned out to be a perfect match. To find out about becoming a donor, visit organdonor.gov. To see if you can be a match for Hembd, visit nmlivingdonor.org.