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Donald JonesFrom High School Acquaintance to Kidney Donor

Donna Thongsavat knew C.J. Duxbury as a kind, class-clown in high school, little did she know that 10 years later, he would be lining up to be her kidney donor.

Donna, 28, of Merced, developed lupus her junior year in high school, a condition that would cause her kidneys to fail in 2011. Since their 2003 graduation, C.J. saw glimpses of Donna’s life in Facebook posts and Instagram photos.

“I saw her posting stuff about leaving the hospital, but I never really knew what was going on with her,” C.J. said. “You wouldn’t know she was dealing with kidney failure by her posts, she was just so energetic and positive, the glass was always half full.”

When Donna started asking friends and family on social media to support her participation in the National Kidney Foundation’s 2012 Central Valley Kidney Walk, C.J. and his wife Paulina finally reached out to offer Donna their support, sending her a care package and their well wishes.

“My wife and I kept telling her that we would do anything we could,” he said. “Initially we just thought that would be support and monetary contributions.”

Still, Donna and C.J. didn’t meet face-to-face until they decided to participate in the 2013 San Francisco Kidney Walk.

“Without NKF and the Kidney Walk we would still have been casual acquaintances,” C.J. said. “Donna and I would never have reconnected, I wouldn’t have learned about her life goals and seen her positive attitude, and we sure wouldn’t be where we are today.”

After meeting for the first time since high school, C.J. suddenly had the thought that he could get tested to be Donna’s donor. No one else from her family or circle of friends had been a match. C.J. got tested and found out he was a perfect match for Donna. Still, he kept it a secret, waiting weeks for the big Thanksgiving reveal. He presented Donna with a set of chopsticks engraved with their transplant operation date. The magical moment was caught on video.

“When I read the first chopstick, it said, ‘Surgery on 2/11/14’,” Donna said. “In my mind I knew what it meant, but I was just thinking, there is no way this could be real, it was so overwhelming.”

Now Donna and C.J. are hoping that their story will inspire others to become aware of kidney disease, kidney failure and the need for organ donors. They are also preparing for their transplant operation and marveling at the twists of fate that would bring them closer together than they had ever been in high school.

“I remember the first note that C.J. sent me, telling me that he knew there was a perfect donor out there for me somewhere,” she said. “It’s so ironic because now he’s my perfect match.”