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'We’ll be friends forever ': Local kidney donor and recipient bonded through the gift of life

Posted at 6:22 PM, May 31, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two local women are bonded forever through the gift of organ donation. Joia Dooley watched a report by KSHB 41 in January of 2022 and changed two lives: hers and the life of her kidney recipient.

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“This news article just popped up on my phone that you had done of a woman in Wichita, which is where I live, who needed a kidney,” said Dooley. “I feel like Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 where it says: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' just really struck me. I knew that if I needed a kidney, and it could save or change my life, I'm sure somebody would do that, and at that point, I couldn’t walk away.”

By the time of her first appointment at St. Luke’s Hospital, the woman looking for a donor in the story had already found her match.

She decided to stay on the donor list after finding out that 100,000 people are looking for a match at any time.

For the next six months, she went through a series of tests to make sure she was healthy for a transplant. In October 2022, she was notified she was a living match for someone.

“I personally feel like it was the hand of God, because it was so random and so unknown and unsearched for by me,” said Dooley. “I’m not a like saint or like a super amazing person — I’m as selfish as the next person. I just feel like this was just a really sweet opportunity that God wrote into my story.”

On Nov. 1, 2022, Dooley donated her kidney to a stranger. The transplant was done privately to protect both parties.

About a month following the surgery, Dooley received an anonymous letter from her kidney recipient thanking her, but even after that, another year passed before they would meet.

“I had flown back from attending my brother’s funeral in Canada and in our stack of held mail was a letter from Katie — who I know now. And it was postmarked the day my brother died. And I just felt that was such a sweet gift from God,” said Dooley.

Her kidney recipient, Katie Bichelmeyer, was born with a genetic disease called Medullary sponge kidney. She struggled with kidney stones and infections her whole life and that ultimately led her to dialysis.

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“I just kept marching forward and hoping to get that call someday,” said Bichelmeyer.

The average wait time for a kidney match with her blood type is a year-and-a-half, so she could not believe the news when she got the call.

“I got that phone call about the first of October. I was on my way home from work and I had to pull over cause I was bawling my eyes out,” said Bichelmeyer. “It’s given me my life back. I can actually go out at night. I can do stuff with my family.”

Within two weeks of Bichelmeyer’s letter, the women met in person for the first time. Since then, the two families have connected creating an unbreakable bond.

“She was an angel. She’s a saint to me,” said Bichelmeyer.

It is now their mission to use their story to encourage others.

“Twelve people die every day waiting. They just sit on that list and there’s not enough donors to help, and I think largely I feel like that’s because people don’t know that they can give while they’re alive,” said Dooley.

Bichelmeyer said the benefit is to know there's someone like her who needs help on the other end.

For more information or to sign up for organ donation, go to the Health Resources & Services Administration's website.