July 3, 2023
By Zoey Moore, POL Intern
Former Pickerington High School choir director John Long owes his life to his assistant director-turned friend, Lori Vance, who donated her kidney to save him.
For the last several years Long suffered from chronic kidney disease. Much of it was caused by the use of anti-inflammatory medication which he took after 30 years of coaching left his knees in bad condition.
“I was informed about this time last year that I would either need to plan for dialysis or get on the kidney transplant list,” Long said. “I managed to get approved for the transplant list and had several people try to be living donors. While judging State Choir Contest with Lori Vance, choir director at Pickerington North, my wife told Lori about my kidney issues. Lori said right away that if she was a match that she would donate a kidney to me.”
Long met Vance when she interviewed to be his assistant choir director at Pickerington High School 28 years ago. In addition to the music, the two had much in common including their shared Alma Mater (Capital University) and their last names. (Vance’s maiden name was Long, but they are of no known relation.)
“She was energetic and what I would call spunky,” Long said. “We made a great team back then. When the high schools split, she went to North, and I stayed at Central, but we continued to communicate and help each other when necessary”
So. at the Ohio Music Education Association’s state competition when Cindy Long told Vance that her husband needed a transplant, Vance responded, “well, I’ve got an extra one hanging out in there. If we are a match, you can have it.”
She underwent testing and was found to be a perfect match.
“The surgeon commented to my wife that if he didn’t know better, he would have sworn that she was my daughter – that’s how close a match she was to me,” Long said.
On April 14th, the procedure took place at the Ohio State University Medical Center.
“The surgery itself was pretty easy in the respects that I go in first, as they begin the two to three hour procedure of removal on me they then take John to an adjoining room.” Vance explained. “They do my procedure laparoscopy. Yes, your kidneys are in the back, but they do the surgery in the front. Your abdominal area is more protected than incisions in the back. I had an incision about one to two inches right below my diaphragm, one to two inches to the left under my rib cage, and then a final vertical incision about four to six inches from naval down. This is where the kidney actually exits the body. They normally take the left kidney from the donor and the recipient then receives it to their right. They do not remove the failed kidneys from the recipient. I tell John they gave him my good kidney!!”
The procedure was a success.
“I didn’t have to do dialysis and now almost all of my lab values are normal (which hadn’t happened in years),” Long said. “My wife says I have color in my face where I was very pale white before.”
Long said he cannot express the extent of his gratitude.
“I will always be thankful for Lori in my life,” he said. “I know my wife says the same thing. She is my hero and a life saver. Her donation of a kidney will allow me to travel with my wife, spend quality time with her and my family. I always wanted to live long enough to see all of my grandkids graduate college. I think I can do that now. I am, without a doubt, very blessed.”
As for Vance, she is so glad of the procedure’s immediate success.
“John is doing wonderfully,” Vance said. “It couldn’t have turned out any better. My end of things is truly very minimal when you see the benefits of what this has done for John and for Cindy and his family. I never really thought of or even recognized the impact of this gesture in my mind until I saw how great everything has been for him, his friends reaching out, the appreciation of his family, et cetera. It is the preverbal “one small act of kindness. Looking back at the timeline and turn of events I was always meant to be his donor.”
Vance also shared a funny story.
“I belong to a euchre club of great friends and back in February before I was officially approved for donation, we were all gathered. A friend of John’s is also in my club. As we all talked, somehow John needing a kidney came up at the table I was at. I intently listened to everything he and the family were going through, and how they were in search of a donor. The whole time quietly smiling and thinking…if she only knew he had a donor (wink wink). The response from me was merely “man that’s awful, I’ll continue to pray that they find one soon for him!” Boy talk about the next card club night after the surgery!!! LOL. Did I get an earful about ‘YOU KNEW AND DIDN’T SAY A WORD!!’ all with much love.”
Vance wants everyone to know the importance of being an organ and blood donor.
“People from ALL walks of life – Young to old. Newborn to dying. These are elements that you carry with you daily that others need,” she said. “A necessity to maintain life and the quality of life. For every week I took and am taking to heal, if it gave him another year of life, that is truly a small sacrifice in the big picture. For every hour I have given once every eight weeks to donate blood, to give someone else life, again is a gift that you can give with no expectation of reciprocation. It is truly unconditional and personally fulfilling. I expect nothing in return.
It also reiterates the fact that you need to take care of your own body and health. By paying basic attention to living good and living healthy it helps to keep you from potentially the recipient end of organ or blood donation. And then the twist is – who can say that you haven’t been carrying around and taking care of someone else’s organ. The organ that saves the life of those closest to you. I’ve joked with John that I have just been the Yeti carrying around and taking care of his kidney for the past 50 years…now it’s his turn to take care of it.”
To learn more about kidney donation, visit the National Kidney Foundation website at http://www.kidney.org.