DaVita® Stories

DaVita Facility Administrator Honors Dad by Beginning Kidney Donation Chain

Tonja Downey, Facility Administrator for two DaVita clinics in Southwest Iowa, donated a kidney last year, a decision that in turn helped save seven lives.  How is that possible?  We each only have two kidneys, so how could her donation help save seven people?

Tonja’s transplant story starts in June of 1998 when her dad, Jack, received a kidney/pancreas transplant from a deceased donor that helped prolong his life for nearly 20 years.  He was able to see all of his children marry and have kids of their own.  That amazing gift from a stranger impacted Tonja’s life and the lives of her mother, siblings, children, nieces and nephews in a profound way.  If Jack had not received the amazing gift of a kidney and pancreas, he would have missed so many happy events in the lives of his children and their children—including the births of his nine grandchildren.

In 2015, Jack’s kidney failed and he was not eligible for another transplant due to other health concerns.  He dialyzed at a DaVita center for two years and Tonja, a Group Facility Administrator, stepped back from her duties as a Group Facility Administrator and took on a smaller clinic as Facility Administrator so she could be there to help her mom care for her dad.  Sadly, Jack passed away in May of 2017.

Over the years Tonja had contemplated donating a kidney.  She knew from personal experience what a wonderful gift it could be to someone.  Shortly after her dad passed, she heard of a family friend that needed a kidney. She decided she would donate one of hers in honor of her dad.  It turned out that she was not a match for the family friend, but she was the first link in a transplantation chain.  Tonja’s generosity set in motion a chain that allowed seven people, including her family friend, to receive a kidney transplant.  A kidney chain is when a donor and recipient do not match but are able to swap kidneys with other donors and recipients that do match.  In this case, 14 people in all participated in the kidney chain, saving the lives of seven people.

I have had the good fortune to work with Tonja for over 10 years.  I know that she is a very skilled and compassionate dialysis nurse, an exceptional FA, a dedicated wife and mother and a wonderful friend.  I was not surprised at all when she told me that she had donated a kidney to a stranger.  Personally, I am in awe of her donation.  I too have been impacted by a transplant; my dad received a kidney in 1996 from his sister.  I have often thought about donating my kidney to him if he needed to have another transplant in the future. To give to a stranger, now that is selflessness on whole different level.  I am proud to call Tonja my friend.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are over 100,000 people in the United States awaiting a kidney transplant.  If you would like more information about becoming a kidney donor you can call the NKF hotline at 1-855-653-2273 or visit nkfcares@kidney.org.

Liz Longo

Liz Longo

Liz Longe is a Regional Coordinator with DaVita and has been with the Village for 14 years. She loves to travel and spend time with her family.