His wife is the perfect match. Naperville resident Aaron Rhoden suffered a stroke due to his high blood pressure. Now he needs a kidney transplant, which is set for May 7.
His wife, Tonya, is donating her kidney and the two still can’t believe the odds of being a match.
“When you look at me, you can tell I’m of West African descent. And that’s how Ancestry DNA says [it], that I’m a West African. And you can look at Tonya. She’s blonde haired and blue eyed and probably German American or English American,” said Aaron. “And it just gives evidence that there’s one human race and we honestly believe that there is an additional purpose from our God on this, and that he wants us to love each other.”
“[Race is] kind of a non-factor when it really matters. We’re the same all the way down to our blood type. We’re the same all the way down to our kidneys,” said Tonya Rhoden. “So when you strip everything else, it’s what’s underneath and beyond the surface that truly matters.”
The couple, married since 2016, said one in every between 50,000 and 100,000 spouses will be a match. The two are “six out of 10 markers identical,” said Aaron.
“We just looked at each other and it was just an indescribable moment,” said Aaron. “When people are married, you say your vows through sickness and through health and never did I know five years later that I would be giving my kidney to my husband,” said Tonya.
Aaron’s high blood pressure was “uncontrollable” for a number of years and he’s been on multiple medications. His former internal medicine doctor had also been giving him the wrong medication.
Though he led a healthy and active lifestyle as a vegetarian and exercising everyday, genetics still came into play. His mother had high blood pressure and diabetes and his father died at 50 from a stroke.
In July 2019, Aaron had a stroke which damaged his kidneys. After that his kidney functionality was at 14%.
“It’s kind of a cycle. Sometimes your kidneys and the lack of performance in the kidneys can raise the blood pressure and likewise the blood pressure can affect the functionality of the kidneys,” said Aaron.
The decreased functionality of his kidneys meant he had six months to either begin dialysis or receive a kidney transplant. That’s when Tonya took tests to see if she would be a match, and she is.
“People say that kidney donors are selfless but I think that I’m pretty selfish because I want him around,” said Tonya. “Five years with him is just a small portion of my life. I’ve kissed many wrong frogs but when I met him it all made sense. God gave me the ability that I could.”
The couple said if Tonya wasn’t a match, Aaron would have waited two years on the transplant waiting list.
“I know that Tonya is my blessing from God,” said Aaron.
His new doctors were able to find the right medication for his high blood pressure, which stabilized him enough to not have to do the surgery right away. At the beginning of the pandemic elective surgeries were on hold and he waited by going in for dialysis three days a week.
But just last weekend the couple had a scare when Aaron went into renal failure. Their surgery is now scheduled for May 7.
A Difficult Journey
Though Aaron is stable for now and he’ll be undergoing a transplant soon, this journey since July 2019 hasn’t been easy for them both.
“It’s been very difficult going from interdependent to dependent upon my wife at least for the time being,” said Aaron.
For Tonya, because she’s a living donor, she was told by doctors that she had to lose 25 pounds.
“When you’re told that you have to lose 25 pounds to save your husband’s life every candy bar is not just a candy bar, every cup of coffee is not a cup of coffee and it became that I was trying to live for two people,” said Tonya. “It did become a little bit stressful that any choice that I made could alter the destination of our future.”
Aaron said the transplant is predicted to be over 95% effective and it’s expected he’ll live for another 15 to 30 years with his wife’s kidney. The couple is already looking ahead.
“I look forward to traveling and holding hands with this beautiful woman, looking at sunrises and sunsets and beautiful places and having beautiful experiences as we did before all of this started happening in my body,” said Aaron.
“I look forward to having my husband back. I mean my husband’s here but I’ve missed him being able to watch a movie with me without falling asleep. It’s the little things that sometimes I think some of us may take for granted every single day,” said Tonya. “Most of all is just knowing that I still have him here because I could’ve lost him in July 2019 and I could have lost him just this past weekend but God has provided me an opportunity to keep him around a little longer and we’re thankful for that.”
The couple will also share their story on the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois podcast on April 27. They hope to set up a free testing site in Naperville for people to get their kidney functionality tested in the future.
“Our hope is that people can become more humane and understanding that they also can create change and help people that are different from them,” said Tonya.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
photo courtesy: Tonya Rhoden