Galesburg families drawn closer together by living kidney donation

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GALESBURG, Illinois (KWQC) - The Thomas and Tolle families say they have been casual friends since the mid 80's. The two husbands worked together at the Galesburg police department for seventeen years. But now?
"We're kidney buddies," says kidney donor Janet Tolle.
"There you go," added kidney recipient Gary Thomas.
Janet says she always took having two kidneys for granted until she learned Gary needed one. And the conversation took place at an event honoring a member of the Galesburg community. Gary says he walked in and found an available seat at a table with his former Andrew Tolle and his wife Janet.
"Janet asked me a lot of questions," says Gary.
Janet says as Gary was answering her questions "everything he said I was ticking off in my mind. 'Well I can do that, well I'm not afraid of that, well that would be me.''
Gary says he had no idea that Janet was considering becoming a donor. "I just figured she was curious as others had been only we just talked about it longer," said Gary.
Janet says she told her husband that she wanted to try to donate her kidney to Gary. And that her husband was extremely supportive and said he wouldn't stand in the way of her wanting to help someone. She says having her husband support was a relief and meant the world to her.
"and honestly I can't explain it, I really don't know how to explain it except that I responded full heartedly with 'gosh if all you need is a kidney, all you need is a kidney.," she said enthusiastically nodding her head with glee.
Janet Tolle says she had a 'plan b' if she wan't a match for Gary. Janet was planning to still donate a kidney to someone else in need and create a donor circle which would help find a kidney for Gary. Something that happens across the nation with living donors.
Janet's husband says he's "very proud of her."
"Gary's children and Grand Children will be able to spend more time with him," he added filled with emotion.
Janet says in many ways this was her way of thanking a community that was there for her and her family in a time of need.
"Two years ago my husband was terribly injured in an incident with his bicycle and the Galeburg community came forward and helped us, the Galesburg police came forward and helped us so my husband and I made a pact that we really need to give back and we don't know how we can give back to say thank you...and I was look for ways to pay forward and for me this was a way to pay forward," she says.
Gary says before receiving a kidney he felt tired all of the time. And that after he was diagnosed with kidney failure he began undergoing dialysis and was put on the donor list.
Gary's wife Karen says being on the donor list for two years meant she always had the phone near by and was waiting for a call. Shortly after Gary was put on the list, Karen says they received a call of a potential deceased donor, "and they called back later and said it wasn't going to work and it was a let down then."
The National Kidney Foundation say the vast majority of people on the kidney transplant list receive a kidney from a deceased donor.
And the average wait time is about 5 years according to the American Kidney Fund.
Janet says she had registered as an organ donor with her drivers license years ago. "But it had never occurred to me to offer someone my kidney until that day that he had mentioned he was on a transplant list," says Janet.
And now that Janet has been a donor if she were ever in need of a kidney she would be given priority on the donor list because she was a donor.
And when Karen and Gary received the call that Janet wanted to see if she could help.
Gary's wife says "it was a very exciting time you just stay guarded because you don't want to be let down too much."
And she says when she and Gary learned Janet was in fact a viable donor and a match for Gary, that "it was a very exciting time. I think both Gary and I both cried. we were very happy."
Gary says what Janet did for him has impacted the way he sees the world
There are "a lot of good people out there, even though a lot of times you don't see it," he says.