Dani Molohon was not about to let the COVID-19 pandemic keep her from saving someone's life, even the life of someone she had never met.
Dani, a supporter of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, had wanted to donate a kidney for quite some time. For many, that level of giving might be too magnanimous an offer.
But Dani isn’t like many people. In a sense, she's a little more in the mold of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, determined to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Those who know Dani best weren’t the least bit surprised by her altruistic act — they say taking care of others is just ingrained in who she is.
Dani has always been a donor in some capacity, whether it be giving blood, donating plasma, applying to be a living organ donor or registering to be a bone marrow donor. The kidney folks just happened to reach out to her first.
She answered the call for many reasons, with the biggest one coming down to family.
The Christmas of 2018, Dani’s mother was to have her gallbladder removed when cancer was discovered in her right kidney. Two doctors were needed for the procedure, with the first taking out the infected gallbladder and the second surgeon removing the cancerous kidney.
“That experience made me acutely aware of how much we rely on others when someone we love gets sick,” Dani said. “And that somewhere in the world, there is someone’s mom, dad or child sitting on a waiting list, praying for a match.”
With her mother cancer-free at her most recent check-up, Dani was able to exhale in relief. That lump of anxiety she felt in the throat, she thought, must be similar to what many St. Jude parents feel.
There was another motivation, albeit an admittedly selfish one. She'd recently made a 1,700-mile move from Minnesota to Arizona, and was starting her life all over.
In a professional sense, she felt fulfilled in her new role at Federated Insurance, the company she has been with for nine years. She loved its community-impact efforts, especially the adaptive-use playground plan under way that would provide a safe, engaging and accessible place for outdoor play.
But back in Minnesota, Dani also worked as a volunteer EMT, and she was missing that feeling of making a tangible difference in someone’s life.
Dani’s chance to make that difference almost didn’t happen. After she was approved to become a living-organ donor, COVID-19 happened. Dani’s kidney-removal procedure was now considered elective. Because most hospitals had ceased elective surgeries, approval had to be granted to make Dani an exception.
On March 17, Dani realized her goal of saving someone’s life. In an eerily empty hospital ward, with a surgery scheduling board built to accommodate 75 patients, just one slot was lit up: hers.
Now, a little over two months post-surgery, Dani has made a complete recovery with a few new scars and one amazing story. The only other difference, she said, is she never leaves home without her water bottle, whether it is to go exploring the open desert highway on her motorcycle or hiking to the perfect sunset spot with her partner.
Dani said she has gained a lot of perspective in the past two years.
“Other people have true challenges. The families at St. Jude face unimaginable challenges. All I had to do was adjust to my new life,” Dani said. “Maybe my donation, in some tiny way, makes a big difference in someone’s life.”
Dani’s humility aside, her donation didn’t just make a big difference in her kidney recipient’s life.
It made all the difference to both of them.