Jenny, a 52-year-old retired Toledo police detective and owner of Jocko’s Ice Cream in Toledo, has volunteered for the Kidney Foundation of Northwest Ohio since its inception in 1966. Her dad, Richard, co-founded the Kidney Foundation, a non-profit organization that assists people living with kidney disease. Richard’s passion for eliminating kidney disease was something Jenny inherited.
Jenny felt like volunteering wasn’t enough, so she started the process of becoming a living donor in 2008.
One and a half years later, Jenny was volunteering at the Kidney Foundation’s lollipop sale at Kroger on McCord Road in Toledo, and her phone rang. It was her transplant coordinator at the University of Toledo Medical Center.
“She said, ‘We have a match!’ I still get goose bumps just thinking about it,” Jenny said. “I did a happy dance in front of Kroger!”
The transplant was set for June 24, 2009 at the University of Toledo Medical Center. Jenny and her recipient agreed they were not going to meet before the transplant, but that didn’t go exactly as planned.
“I was in the waiting room and this lady looked at me and asked if I was there to donate, and I said, ‘Yes ma’am, I am.’ She said, ‘We have been praying for you for four years. You are donating to my husband,’” Jenny said.
Jenny’s eyes went to a frail, fatigued man with skin “as green as lettuce.” The lady, Nita, said her husband, Bill, was weeks away from death. He had endured more than 15 years of dialysis and four years on the waiting list.
“Well, today is the day,” Jenny said to Bill and Nita. “We are going to eat chili with kidney beans and cornbread when this is all over!”
On June 24, 2009, Jenny saved Bill’s life.
A few hours later, Jenny woke up from her surgery. She was snacking on a peanut butter and jelly sucker when the doctor walked in her room.
“He said, ‘I’m looking for Jennifer Gordon,’ and I said, ‘That’s me!’ He couldn’t believe it was me because I was doing so well already,” Jenny said.
Bill’s surgery was also a success. Seeing Bill after his transplant is something Jenny will never forget. His color returned to normal, and he was energized. He looked forward to spending more time with his family and partaking in his favorite activity – golf.
“He immediately looked like a whole new person. I couldn’t believe he was the same guy I saw in that waiting room,” Jenny said. “It was a miracle.”
Jenny was speed walking in the University of Toledo Medical Center’s parking lot at 4 a.m. the next day, and she was released a few hours later. She was back to her normal routine two days after her surgery.
Jenny heard about the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, an Olympic-style competition for transplant recipients. The 2012 Transplant Games featured a 5K cycling competition that was open to living donors, and Jenny decided to participate.
Training for the Transplant Games didn’t come as easily as Jenny had anticipated. In 2011, Jenny tripped on her couch, broke her leg and hit her head on her fireplace, causing her to lose 90 percent of her vision. Doctors estimated that Jenny was lying on her floor for about a day and a half before she regained consciousness. Once she did, she groggily crawled to her bedroom, grabbed a shoe, crawled to her bathroom, dipped the shoe in her toilet and drank that water to try to stay hydrated. She crawled to her garage, found a pole and used it to open her garage, and crawled to the end of her driveway. One of her neighbors found her, and she was rushed to the hospital.
Jenny did not let her broken leg and almost complete blindness stop her from cycling at the Transplant Games. She trained on a spin bike, and after regaining nearly 50 percent of her eyesight, she rode her bike around her Maumee, Ohio, neighborhood a few weeks before the Transplant Games.
“I did it in tears, and I didn’t hit any parked cars!” Jenny said.
Jenny and her bike, which she named Billy, after her recipient, arrived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Transplant Games. Jenny went to the cycling route and memorized every hill and every turn. Her goal was to finish the race, but she did much more than that. Jenny won the gold medal!
“Here’s a headline – blind lady with one kidney gets a gold medal in cycling!” Jenny laughed.
All kidding aside, Jenny said donating her kidney was one of the best experiences of her life.
“It’s one of the most humbling things I’ve had the opportunity to do. To see life continue is truly amazing,” Jenny said. “I’m proud to say that my kidney lives very happily in a 66-year-old gentleman in Indiana.”