Jaime David de León’s reason for joining the NJ Sharing Network Foundation Board is simple: “I received a gift and I want to give back.”
His extraordinary story begins more than a decade ago, when laboratory tests discovered high levels of a protein in his blood that showed he was in renal failure. He began kidney dialysis and went on the transplant waiting list at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. He remained on dialysis for four years.
But JD’s blood type put him at a disadvantage. He was a type O, which means he can only accept an organ from someone with this rare blood type. However, people with blood type O can be universal donors and, as a result, their blood is in high demand.
“It seemed everyone was getting a kidney except me,” he said. His chances of finding a match were so slim doctors considered him for an experimental procedure that allows recipients to receive a non-compatible kidney. His wife, Theresa, came to the hospital to be tested as a possible non-compatible donor. But doctors quickly ruled her out because her blood pressure was too high. Despondent, she shared her story with a colleague at PNC Bank, where she works as a Vice President of Wealth Management.
The colleague was Ken Wenger, a Sr. Vice President. He soon offered his kidney. Theresa and JD were amazed by Ken’s generous offer. And it turns out that Wenger was a perfect match, a statistical improbability.
“Ken told me his brother was born with just one kidney,” JD recalls. “He always expected that he would donate his kidney sometime in his life.” JD said Ken discussed the donation with his brother after his brother had just beaten him in a basketball game. “His brother said, ‘I beat you with one kidney. Go ahead and give your kidney to someone who needs it,” JD recalled. Since the 2007 transplant JD has been healthy and wants to share the lifesaving message of organ and tissue donation. “It’s my way of saying thanks,” he said.