Kidney Donor Crusader Is Busting Myths, Opening Doors And Changing Lives

| By Jonna Rae Bartges |

“In order to live and thrive with a healthy kidney, no one has to die.” ~ Rhonnie Leder, Living Kidney Donor

Rhonnie Leder is a myth buster.

The first big myth on her list—that kidney donors must be deceased. Second—that living donors will spend the rest of their lives somehow impaired. Third—that someone in the family will always be a match. And fourth—that the need for kidney donors is declining.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

Rhonnie Leder

Rhonnie Leder

Rhonnie herself is living proof—the key word here is ‘living’—that someone can choose to donate one of their kidneys, and actually reap some health benefits of their own. She’s sounding the call for potential kidney donors of all ages to seriously learn how simple and unobtrusive the actual surgery is, and how the need for healthy kidneys is growing by leaps and bounds.

Her good work in raising awareness and changing lives of both donors and recipients for the better sprang from a deeply personal experience.

Back in 2005, when her husband, retired veterinarian Sam Leder, became seriously ill, he ended up spending many months in the ICU. He had to start dialysis, and his doctors told him he needed a kidney transplant. They said he would be placed on a list where the minimal wait time was over three years.

“I’m a retired elementary school teacher,” Rhonnie said. “I like having a plan. I didn’t want to wait for someone to pass away and get a phone call in the middle of the night. From the beginning, our plan was to have a living kidney donor.”

The first hurdle was neither Rhonnie nor either of their three kids were a match. Sam was blood type O, and Rhonnie and their kids were all type A.

“We had to go outside the family,” Rhonnie recalls. “That’s when I wrote the letter.” She and Sam split their time between homes in Boca Raton, Florida, and the Cashiers area of NC. A straight-speaking, practical person with a gift for getting to the heart of the matter, Rhonnie penned a powerful letter to the editor of the Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle.

She laid out the growing need for living kidney donors—not just for Sam, but also for tens of thousands of people struggling with dialysis. She shot down the myth that donors live the rest of their lives impaired in some way. Most of all, she appealed to readers’ sense of compassion.

“We received six responses,” Rhonnie said. “One 32-year-old mother of two, Mollie Kinsey, called me and said she’d love to do this. She told me she donated blood all the time, and she knew she’d be a good match. I remember I told her, ‘This is not like giving blood. This is giving a part of your body.’”

The young woman was undeterred. So in a Miami hospital in 2007, ironically on Father’s Day weekend and Rhonnie’s 60th birthday, Mollie cheerfully donated her kidney to Sam. As the young, healthy organ began to filter impurities from Sam’s blood, his health was transformed almost immediately. His energy and enthusiasm soared, and he was soon enjoying excursions again with his four young grandchildren. Mollie became a cherished honorary new addition to the Leder family.

As Sam resumed hiking, boating and working out with a personal trainer, Rhonnie felt she could best express her gratitude for Sam’s good fortune by becoming active in the Miami Transplant Institute. During one of the committee meetings, she struck up a friendship with a couple from Miami. The husband was himself a kidney recipient, and he and his wife hoped a close friend of theirs might someday be as fortunate.

Les Loffman, they explained, was put on a waiting list for a kidney, and the average wait in New York is nine years. The heart-breaking thing was, his doctors didn’t think Les had nine years left. He was not doing well on dialysis.

“I asked them if they happened to know Les’ blood type,” Rhonnie said. “When they told me, I said I might have just found them a donor.”

At first Rhonnie was concerned she might be too old to donate – she was over 60, and by that time, a grandmother of eight. Sam’s doctor, however, told Rhonnie she’d be an excellent candidate. She was quite healthy and active, and only three years and two days older than Les—making her kidney age-appropriate.

When she called the Loffman family in New York, it was an emotional connection. Les and his wife couldn’t believe their good fortune, and immediately started making plans to get to the hospital in Miami where the surgery would take place.

Since Sam’s surgery four years earlier, Rhonnie had become an expert in kidney transplant protocol. “There’s a myth that donating a kidney is challenging for the donor,” she said. “It’s actually more dangerous crossing a street than getting up on that table.”

“I went into this knowing I had eight grandchildren. In the rare event something HAD happened to me, they could say it happened while grandma was doing something important for somebody else. You have to have the attitude that you want to do this, but you receive so much more than you’re giving. You’ll never miss this part of your body.”

“When we donate a kidney, nothing new is coming into our body. We just instantly adjust to having a single kidney, and we don’t have to take any anti-rejection medication. Everything is done laproscopically. I had a tiny little incision and was glued together, inside and out. I didn’t need a single stitch.”

Les received Rhonnie’s kidney on April 7th, 2011. By April 15, Rhonnie was at her son’s 40th birthday party. “I wasn’t dancing on the tables,” she laughs, “but I was there, enjoying the celebration!”

“The greatest thing about being a living kidney donor,” Rhonnie says, “is I had the opportunity to see Les walk both his son and daughter down the aisle. He also just became a grandfather. It gives you goose bumps, knowing that you could give the gift of life. I’m an angel to them, just like Mollie was an angel to us.”

Rhonnie revealed that more was shared than just kidneys in both operations.

“Shortly after his surgery, Sam started eating really spicy food for the first time in his life. I called Mollie and asked if SHE liked spicy food. She said she loved it!”

“Then shortly after I donated a kidney to Les, he called me and said, ‘Can you dance?’ I told him I was okay at it. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘they tell me I’m dancing better than I ever have!’”

An unexpected benefit for Rhonnie—and she has no idea why this has happened — is that she is no longer plagued by the sinus headaches she endured for years.

As she continues to raise awareness and shoot down myths surrounding kidney donation, Rhonnie said she’s particularly interested in connecting with the older population in good health. “When you’re in your late fifties, your sixties and up,” Rhonnie explained, “You’re no longer a good living donor candidate for your children or grandchildren. Doctors won’t put a 65-year-old kidney in a 40 year old. But for someone on the waiting list like Les, you’d be a life saver.”

Another myth Rhonnie hopes to help dispel is that living donors are impaired in any way. She was frustrated when she heard a lending company mandated that a woman who was applying for a mortgage had to sign documents stipulating she would NOT donate a kidney as long as she had a mortgage with them.

“Urban myths are just so wrong,” Rhonnie lamented. “The lending company just doesn’t understand that for her to become eligible to donate, she has to go through extensive testing to prove she’s healthy. She’s probably much more fit than most of the other borrowers they have.”

While donors are giving up a kidney, which they’ll never miss, says Rhonnie, they’re gaining a deep connection with another person like nothing they’ve ever had. In the joyful years following Sam’s and Rhonnie’s surgeries, they’ve expanded their “virtual family” to include both Mollie and Les, and their families.

To mark the anniversary of both life-giving surgeries, each year Sam gives Mollie another jewelry heart to add to a charm bracelet. The message is, in order to live and thrive with a healthy kidney, no one has to die. Since Sam gratefully received Mollie’s kidney, he’s lived to see four more beautiful grandchildren come into the world. Les annually sends Rhonnie flowers to mark the anniversary of their surgeries.

“Les and his wife invited us to be in some of their children’s wedding photos,” Rhonnie says. “When I look at Les I don’t see my kidney. I see a lovely human being who got to see his children get married, and become a happy grandpa. When you have the opportunity to give someone the gift of a life, you receive so much more, and you never miss what you left. I urge people, particularly older people, to learn more. It’s a deeply personal choice and no one could have talked me into it, and no one could have ever talked me out of it. If you’re healthy, and interested in finding out more, please do it.”

“We didn’t lose a kidney – we donated a kidney and saved a life.”

For more information about organ donation, visit

Author, Emmy-winner and psychic medium Jonna Rae Bartges is a frequent contributor. She’s balanced intuitive abilities with a career in print and broadcast news, and promotion for TV stations and clients including Disneyland, Sea World and Legoland. For a consultation or a list of upcoming development and Reiki classes, visit

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