All Stories

Heather and Melissa- Kidney Donor and Kidney recipient’s wife

Heather’s Story:

In May of 2021, I saw a Facebook plea posted about a man named Joey who was
seeking a living kidney donor. I worked with Joey at one time when he was a court security
officer in the Mason County Justice Building when I was a secretary to the Circuit Judge. I also
knew Joey’s wife, Melissa for many years through both school and work. Joey had Polycystic
Kidney Disease (PKD) and his kidney function had decreased to a point that he was looking for
a living kidney donor. I was moved by his plea and decided to start going through the process
to determine if I was a match. I visited Joey’s microsite on the national kidney registry,
completed a medical questionnaire and provided my address to be sent a kit. I received the kit,
which contained swabs which I was instructed to swipe/scrub the inside of the cheeks of my
mouth with. I returned the swabs as directed and waited. May passed, nothing. June passed,
nothing. July passed, nothing. August almost passed until I received a phone call from an
unknown number on August 27, 2021. The person calling (Tina from UC) left a voicemail
informing me that I was ‘compatible’ and if I was still interested in proceeding in donating a
kidney to Joey, to give her a call to set up a medical evaluation.

Medical evaluation was scheduled for the end of September and I traveled to UC to undergo many tests. I debated on
whether or not to reach out to Joey and his wife to let them know what I was doing. I ultimately
decided to share the news with Melissa in the hope that it would lift spirits. Following some
minor stops and starts, a surgery date was scheduled and on March 14, 2022, my left kidney
found a new home in Joey.

Today, I can’t even tell I had surgery, nor that I only have one kidney. I would do it all
again if I could, but I can’t. That’s why it is my hope that someone will hear our shared story and
know that they too can help one person by giving the gift of life through living donation.


Melissa’s Story:
At the age of 18, Joey’s father had a kidney transplant due to polycystic kidney disease. So
even at that early age, he knew that there was a possibility that he would one day need a
transplant himself.
He first began to notice symptoms in his 20’s when he began to be treated for elevated
blood pressure. In his 30’s the blood pressure became uncontrollable, so his family doctor
recommended that he have an ultrasound done on his kidneys. It was at that time that he
learned that he had indeed inherited this disease from his father. ]
For many years, he played what we called “medication roulette” trying to find the right
dosage of dozens of medications to control the Blood Pressure. We finally decided that it
was time to move past a primary care physician and see a nephrologist. We did that for a
few years until the creatinine and kidney function started to become concerning and we
didn’t feel that we were in the right place for treatment. We began doing some research to
find a “team” to treat him. We have a friend who works at the local dialysis clinic who asked
us to please give her UC doctors a chance. The doctor that traveled to the Maysville dialysis
clinic is the head of the UC transplant team, and he typically doesn’t take on nephrology
patients. However, because of our friend that worked there, he agreed to meet with us
during his lunch hour one afternoon.
He spoke to us about the goal of the UC team being to transplant patients ahead of dialysis,
he explained the disease to us in ways we had never heard, he told us that UC was an
international hub for organs to transplant….we walked out of that office that day knowing
that we had found our place. We knew that we wanted this team to be OUR team. He
agreed to take Joey on as a regular patient, and see him in Maysville at the clinic.
For 2 years we would go into that clinic for our visits and walk through the patients who
were there for dialysis and would walk out saying, “I pray that we never have to see the day
that we are walking in there for anything other than these visits.”
I will never forget the day I received a phone call one day prior to our clinic visit from our
friend that worked at the dialysis clinic. She had gotten our lab work back from the hospital
in preparation for our visit with the doctor and she said, “Melissa, Dr. Govil would like for you
to be here an hour earlier than scheduled to meet with a coordinator named Maria.” Of
course I asked a thousand questions around the reasoning for this…we didn’t know Maria,
had never spoken with her, so why tomorrow?
It was that visit that we were told that his kidney function had reached 20%. “It’s time to go
active on the transplant list.” Those words are words that no one can ever prepare for,
regardless of how much you think you are mentally prepared to hear them. This was
November 2020.
I remember having an entire conversation that day with her about how we needed to put our
story out there in any way possible to find a living donor. She spoke about the benefits of
having a living donor and kept stressing how important it was that this is what we needed to
focus on. I sat there and cried the whole time she was talking, hearing every word she was
saying, but still trying to wrap my head around it all. I finally said, “How do you do that?
How do you ask someone to give you an organ? I ask people for money every day in my job
to support our non-profit, so I don’t have an issue going after an insane amount of money,
but I just can’t fathom how to ask someone to give us a kidney.”
We walked out in a daze and stayed that way for a few weeks. The phone calls started
coming daily, sometimes multiple times per day scheduling visits with the transplant team,
coordinators calling telling us what clearance appointments we needed, etc. I felt like I was
becoming a secretary for Joey trying to keep up with everything happening in our lives. One
day I woke up and decided that today was the day that I was going to do something to find a
kidney. I found some friends and family to be our champions, we launched a facebook page
and started posting about all of our appointments, sharing his microlink multiple times a
week, sharing statistics and myths vs facts of living donation. We spent hundreds of dollars
on car magnets with his microlink on it, and began talking to everyone I saw about our
Then the call that we had been waiting for happened. Heather called me and began asking
some questions, and then finally told me that she was a match and was being sent for tests
to be medically cleared. There are no words to describe the feelings that you have when
someone tells you that they may be a match to give your spouse an organ that he
desperately needs. Joey was suffering terribly with depression at that time. He had just
quit work due to his health, and was not in a good place mentally. So I made the decision to
not tell him about my call with Heather until I had more information. I couldn’t bear to get
his hopes up and then something come up.
Heather and I kept in contact and once we finally felt like “this is going to happen”, I told
Joey. He was thrilled, but reserved. He later said that he just guarded his emotions
because he was afraid that it just wouldn’t happen.
Heather and I went to the same high school, later worked together professionally on
occasion, and my husband met her through one of his part time jobs. So this was not a
stranger, but not someone that we saw frequently in recent years. It was all hard to wrap
our heads around, why did she want to do this for HIM. I don’t believe that the reality hit
Joey until the week before surgery when Heather and Joey were both at UC at the same
time for pre-surgery appointments and we saw each other face to face for the first time
since we had heard she was a match. Emotions were so high that day….again, there are just
no words.
We are nearing our 90 days post transplant and things are going well. We think of Heather
daily….how could we not. Every moment of our days now are thanks to her selfless act. We
just can not fathom how we reached this point, or how anyone could make this decision,
even though I worked every free second that I had to make it happen. I will not stop telling
our story for many reasons, among those being the fact that we have been so blessed, I
hope to inspire others to give the same gift to others that we were given, and I hope to have
the right people listen to change some legislation to protect organ recipients and donors.