Wichita radio host grateful for kidney donation that saved his late wife
WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – You might know her voice on Wichita radio. JJ Hayes hosts the morning show on country station 101.3 KFDI, updating Kansans on news, traffic and rotating tracks to help kick-start listeners’ days.
It was also Hayes’ voices that connected his late wife, Michelle, to an organ donor as her health declined.
In 2015, Michelle was in end-stage kidney disease with her kidneys functioning at 17%. It sparked “very real” conversations for the couple about life, death and caregiving. Hayes tested to see if it was compatible with donating his kidney to Michelle.
“That’s until death do us part. It’s for better or for worse, ”says Hayes.
Hayes explains that he lives his life seamlessly on air at KFDI. He has spoken openly about Michelle’s diagnosis on the air.
As it turned out, the perfect person was listening.
“Cindy, who is now considered family, she listened back then. A complete stranger, heard the story and felt compelled to talk to her family about it, and she was moved to get tested to see if she fit, ”said Hayes.
Cindy was the perfect match for Michelle.
While many see organ / tissue / eye donation as a checkbox on your driver’s license in the event of a tragedy, Cindy is considered a living donor. She lives, eats and breathes with one kidney less because the other is with Michelle.
The transplant process took about two years and was not without difficulties. The couple traveled to Kansas City for the 15-day transplant process. Hayes said his wife had an allergic reaction to the anti-rejection drug and coded twice, nearly dying.
It was also at KC Hospital that he regained his faith. A family in the waiting room praying for him had a “profound impact” on Hayes.
After the transplant, Michelle did not receive the immediate boost of energy and recovery, but was able to move the process forward and stay positive.
“Organ donation, as far as my story is concerned, has given me three more years with my wife than I would have had, and we have had so many great memories and experiences during those three. years that I wouldn’t have had if Michelle had ‘I had this kidney,’ says Hayes.
Michelle and Hayes have spent time cooking together, traveling, and raising dogs and cats through the Wichita Animal Action League.
“She just wanted to make a difference with the second chance that was given to her,” Hayes said.
Michelle died in October 2020 after returning home after a hospital battle with COVID-19.
Since Michelle’s death, Hayes has remained an organ, tissue and eye donor advocate for the Midwest Transplant Network. He is their “Green Ribbon Champion” and a registered organ donor himself.
“If you give that person and their family, six extra weeks, two extra years, five extra years, you know, again, there are memories to be made,” said Hayes.
Organ, Eye, and Tissue Donation Facts (via Midwest Transplant Network)
Across the United States, the need for organ donation is significant:
- More than 109,000 men, women and children are currently awaiting vital organ transplants
- Tens of thousands more awaiting life-enhancing tissue or corneal transplants
- On average, 20 people die every day due to the lack of organs available for transplants
- Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list
- 95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor, but only 60% are registered
For more up-to-date data, visit organdonor.gov
In our region, approximately 2,000 people in Missouri and 500 people in Kansas are awaiting vital transplants. By registering as an organ and tissue donor, you can:
- Saving up to eight lives, which may include freeing two people from dialysis treatments by donating kidneys
- Improve the lives of up to 100 more people, which may include two-person donation of sight by donating corneas and helping repair injured bones, joints and other tissue with bone donation and fabrics