A Kidney Donor’s Joy

By Dianna Troyer

Robert Johnson, who donated a kidney to his friend, on vacation with his family in Hawaii. Photo by Marianne Johnson

Starr Valley native Richard Jaynes celebrates two birthdays every year. Besides his biological birthday, he celebrates November 28— the day he received a donated kidney from Starr Valley resident Robert Johnson, his niece’s husband.

“It’s truly a rebirth, a big day in our family,” says Richard, 67, who lives in Suncrest, Utah. “With dialysis three days a week, you feel chained to your home. Since the transplant in 2016, I feel like a new man. We can travel with our kids, and I’m up to 5 miles a day on the stationary bike I got for Christmas.”

Robert still feels a sense of elation about donating a kidney.

“There aren’t many things we can do that make such a huge difference in another person’s life,” says Robert, a special education teacher at Wells High School. “It’s indescribably gratifying to see how healthy Richard is and how active he is outdoors with his kids and grandkids.”

Richard Jaynes, left, received a kidney from his niece’s husband, Robert Johnson, who lives in Starr Valley. Photo by Marianne Johnson

Robert says patients with failing kidneys confront lengthy wait times to find donors.

“There’s a huge need,” he says. “You can always designate on your driver’s license that you want to be an organ donor. I have. I’d be happy for doctors to use any of my parts.”

April is designated as National Donate Life Month by the nonprofit Donate Life America. The organization encourages Americans to register as organ, eye or tissue donors, and to honor donors.

“Hopefully others will be inspired to give such a great gift to individuals whose lives will be changed for the better in so many wonderful ways,” says Richard’s wife, Launa.

In celebrating the date of his transplant, Richard and Launa keep track of the donated kidney’s age, too.

“Robert is 49, so we sing happy birthday to the kidney, too, and celebrate Richard,” Launa says. “I’ll always remember when the nurse told me the donated kidney began working as soon as it was connected. We were euphoric.”

Richard’s kidney transplant enabled him and his wife, Launa, to travel. They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on a cruise to Alaska. Photo courtesy of Richard and Launa Jaynes

While Richard felt energized within days, Robert took longer to recover.

“It’s a huge sacrifice for the donor,” Launa says. “We felt bad that it was harder on him than on Richard.”

Robert says he began considering the donation when his wife, Marianne, told him about her uncle’s plight. Richard was diagnosed at 18 with Type 1 diabetes, which caused his kidneys to steadily weaken.

In January 2014, when his kidney function dipped below 19%, he was placed on a transplant list. By November, his kidney function had deteriorated below 10%, forcing him to begin dialysis.

“His immediate family members weren’t compatible,” Robert says. “I’ve run two marathons and am healthy and offered to be tested. We were a good match with blood types and other issues.”

The procedure was done at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

Having one kidney does not impair Robert’s outdoor lifestyle, including a hike to Hole in the Mountain with his wife, Marianne. Photo courtesy of Robert and Marianne Johnson

“The transplant team’s success rate is among the highest in the nation,” Robert says. “We were there seven days and recuperated together.”

Two years after the transplant, Richard and Launa celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary by taking a 16-day cruise to Alaska with friends.

“We could never have done that without Robert’s gift,” Launa says. “We’ve been to Hawaii and national parks. This month and in May, we’ll be in Grand Junction with our kids.”

Robert says donating a kidney has not impaired his outdoor lifestyle, although he is more mindful of his health and grateful to be physically active.

“I’m careful to stay hydrated and try not to overexert myself,” he says.

An avid outdoorsman, he and Marianne plan to hike the 20-mile South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails in the Grand Canyon in April.

“We walk at a steady pace and can do it in a day,” Robert says. “It’s one of our favorite places. There’s so much beauty around here, too. I’ve hiked to every lake in the Ruby Mountains and done the Ruby Crest Trail.”

Marianne says the donation strengthens her lifelong connection with her uncle.

“Uncle Rick was so important to me growing up,” Marianne says. “I was the first niece on that side of the family, and my uncles and aunt spoiled me. He would play with me a lot. After he and Launa married, she became a loving and fun aunt to me.”

The Jaynes express their unending gratitude to Robert.

“They’ve given Robert gifts on the anniversary of the donation and treat him like a king,” Marianne says. “We love Rick and Launa so much and are so grateful they’ve been able to do more things since he isn’t tied down to hours of dialysis every week.”

Robert advises people who consider donating a kidney “to go for it.”

“Do your research about the procedure and recovery,” he says. “It’s so rewarding. It makes me so happy to see Richard living a full life.”