Sorority sisters connected through the gift of life

The Leclaire Family

After 10 years of decline in his kidney function, John LeClaire of Brookfield, Wis., needed a kidney transplant. His wife, Liza Gardetto LeClaire ’90, sent out a Facebook plea to friends and family on behalf of her husband.

The message read: “If anyone feels altruistic, or knows anyone who’d like to save his life, blood type A or blood type O needed. As the transplant coordinator joked, ‘God gave us one kidney to use and one to share.’”

Liza’s old sorority sister Tobi Cawthra ’89 of Milwaukee, Wis., saw the message on Facebook, and contacted Liza to see if she could be John’s donor.

“When I was in high school, a friend of mine was killed in a traffic accident and his parents donated his organs. So, at a fairly young age, I realized how important organ donation was,” explains Tobi. “I decided to donate my kidney to Liza’s husband because I knew it had the potential to save his life. I cannot think of a more compelling reason. Every year, thousands of people die waiting for an organ.”

Tobi remained optimistic that she would be accepted as a donor, undergoing a series of tests through the Transplant Program at Milwaukee’s Froedtert Hospital. “I had to go through numerous medical tests, including blood tests, checking blood glucose, cholesterol antibodies and other tests to ensure that I would be healthy enough to give up a kidney.”

Liza and her husband stayed hopeful along with their two young children. “I prayed for my husband to find an angel who could save him,” she says.

Turns out, Tobi was that angel.

After the surgery on July 18, 2012, the Ripon College graduates flashed each other a thumbs-up sign.

“Tobi Cawthra has given my husband a second chance at life, and we aren’t taking anything for granted,” explains Liza. “We’re enjoying every moment.”

“I think everyone has the opportunity, in the course of a lifetime, to save someone’s life. And I just have the benefit of knowing who that person is,” Tobi told Milwaukee’s TMJ4, who followed the story on special assignment.

Tobi hopes their story is inspiring to others. “Live organ donation may be the extreme, but giving blood, registering on the bone marrow transplant list, or registering as an organ donor by signing the back of your driver’s license gives one the chance to save a life.”

Liza says she appreciates anyone who would consider becoming a live donor. “Blood and plasma are the most commonly known requests,” she says. “However, with the rise in diabetes and heart problems, kidney failure and donor needs are even more significant.”

If you are interested in registering as an organ donor, visit www.YesIWill.org.

Tsering Yangchen ’14
Madison, Wis.

To read more stories of Ripon College alumni, click here.

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