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Monday, April 15th, 2019

Area woman donates her kidney to a stranger

Pair find they live 5 minutes apart

By Leslie Gartrell
ROCKFORD - Bryan Schoenleben's first kidney transplant was in 1990, and his second was Feb. 19. Now, he's urging others to donate organs to save lives.
Bryan Schoenleben was 19 when he discovered an undetected birth defect had done irreparable damage to his kidney. His older brother Scott at the time was a perfect match, and after the operation Bryan Schoenleben lived with his new kidney for the next 28 years. He said the average lifespan of a donated kidney is 15.
Now 47, Bryan Schoenleben needed a new kidney but had no viable matches available.
A friend made a Facebook post, a call out to the world to see if anyone would be willing to donate. Jenna Snell answered.
The mother of five couldn't stop thinking about the post once she'd seen it. With an O-negative blood type and a person who had already agreed to be an organ donor when deceased, she thought - why not?
Snell was tested and sure enough, she was a perfect match. From there, the two contacted each other and were signed up to get the operation in a month. Scott Schoenleben said he was floored that a stranger would do something like that for someone she didn't know.
The two, along with their families, chatted and met for the first time about two or three weeks before the surgery. The two learned that they lived near each other, about five minutes apart.
On Feb. 19 Bryan Schoenleben underwent surgery to receive Snell's donated kidney. Snell said the surgery was the toughest thing she'd ever been through. She said the pain was intense and not at all what she expected, though she went home the next day.
Now nearly seven weeks later, the two are feeling fine and are still in contact.
"It's been a whirlwind," said Bryan Schoenleben, looking back. "A stranger thought she could help, and she did."
Snell says the experience has been overwhelming and that donating her kidney was the right thing to do.
A benefit and gun raffle for the two on March 23 was a success, said Scott Shoenleben. Snell said the event was huge, saying she estimated about 600 people attended. Scott Schoenleben said they ran out of tickets for the gun raffle and had to order more tickets and purchase more guns. Snell said Bryan Schoenleben must be one heck of a guy.
"The benefit really showed his impact on the community," said Scott Schoenleben.
Today, Bryan Schoenleben is working to acknowledge living donors during National Donate Life Month, which is observed in April. In less than two weeks he'll go back to work thanks to Snell.
"How do you thank someone for that?" he said.
Snell was back to work within three weeks of her surgery and was amazed at the outpouring of love from the community. She said she's received cards, casseroles and compliments for an act she claimed has never really been a big deal.
"If my story helps one other person (think about donating), then mission accomplished," she said.
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