'I needed to do something good': Woodstock woman to donate kidney to stranger from Elgin
A yearning to do something meaningful, a desire to make a real difference for someone, had been brewing deep inside Heidi Dooley.
"I've been telling my husband for the past year, 'I need to do something,'" the 43-year-old Woodstock woman said. "I don't know, I just felt like I needed to do something good. Work is really fulfilling, things are really good ... but I feel like I want to do more."
A Daily Herald story detailing the plight of an Elgin man in need of a kidney tapped into that feeling, leading Dooley to volunteer to be a donor for that man, 69-year-old Dave Thompson. The transplant is scheduled for Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
A stranger's coming forward to help her father is nothing short of amazing, said Thompson's daughter Stephanie Raap of Plato Center.
"It's an overwhelming feeling. How do you even show enough appreciation for what Heidi is doing?" Raap said. "I don't know how to thank her enough."
Dooley is a behavior health consultant for Northwestern Medicine, where she meets with patients after traumatic events such as suicide attempts and devastating diagnoses. She's fostered rescue cats and signed up for the bone marrow donor registry but has never done anything of this magnitude, she said.
Thompson and Dooley met March 28 during preoperative testing. The hospital didn't allow the media to witness the meeting and said it would comment only after the transplant. A letter from the hospital asks Thompson to show up at 5:30 a.m. Thursday for the surgery.
Dooley said she was nervous to meet Thompson last month but immediately connected with him and his family.
"To be honest, there was part of me that was like, 'What if they meet me and they don't want my kidney?'" she said, not entirely joking.
Thompson said he was grateful beyond words. "I'm guessing she'll probably become like a third daughter," he said.
Thompson, who is retired, has had chronic kidney disease for about 16 years. A second stroke last year aggravated the disease, and he's been on dialysis since late September. His wife, Pat, and his two daughters tested to be donors but were not a match.
Thompson said hospital staff members told him 65 potential donors had come forward for him. He attributed that to Raap's tireless efforts to spread the word to friends, co-workers and media, he said.
Dooley said she read the Daily Herald's story through a work newsletter. She normally doesn't read it, but a nurse friend was featured that day so she clicked on the link, which led her to the story about Thompson.
"My mom is 68, the same age (as Thompson at the time)," Dooley said. "So many of the things (about Thompson) are just like my mom ... giving and involved in church and involved with family. I thought, 'What if that was my mom? What if I wanted a stranger to help?'"
The timing was right, her stepkids are independent enough and her husband was supportive, Dooley said.
"If I were really young, I'd be worried about living my whole life with one kidney. If I were older, I'd be more nervous," Dooley said. "I'm at that good point in my midlife."
Dooley said she also consulted with people who had donated kidneys through Northwestern Memorial, and she requested a specific surgeon.
Now, both families are counting down the hours to Thursday, when they and friends will wear green, the color for kidney disease awareness. The initiative has spread to Fox Meadow Elementary School in South Elgin, where Principal Sjoukje Brown knows Raap.
"The chain is out there, and people are hoping that it goes well. We're excited that (Thompson) has this opportunity," Brown said.
Thompson said he, too, is excited and a bit nervous. He's mostly worried about recovery and side effects from medication, he said.
Dooley is optimistic.
"Ultimately, I just hope it works," Dooley said. "Surgery is surgery. Northwestern has never lost a donor in surgery. I know it's a risk, but it's pretty rare. Ultimately, if I'm uncomfortable for a week, it's a really small price to pay for Dave hopefully feeling better and having a better quality of life."