Her Community Rallied to Find Her a Kidney Donor. Now This CA Mom Is Enjoying a New Life

Photo Credit: Jill Abele/Facebook

As anyone who knows me well or follows my work regularly knows, I am a big fan of my hometown of Simi Valley, California. Despite its proximity to Los Angeles and somewhat large population (130,000), Simi Valley is a community filled with people exuding the can-do community spirit one expects to find in small towns far away from the coastal elites.

And in my town, in the last four years, two residents – both members of the same Rotary Club – have volunteered to give a kidney to a neighbor. The second surgery took place Wednesday, and both the donor and recipient are now home to celebrate life and rebirth over this sacred weekend.

It all started three years ago when restaurateur Tony Falato learned that he needed a new kidney, and quick. His wife, Evelyn Garfield, and their Rotary friend Deb Holler founded Team Tony, raising community awareness about how to become a living kidney donor. It turned out that there was a match not only in Simi Valley, but right there in their Rotary Club. Falato received a kidney from Rocky Rhodes in January 2016, and both are still doing well today. (And a dessert is named after him at Falato’s restaurant, the Junkyard Cafe.)

Photo Credit: Junkyard Cafe, Screenshot

So in 2019 when the community learned that Jill Abele, wife of Rancho Simi Parks & Recreation Board Chair Ed Abele, was in desperate need of a new kidney, Garfield and Holler again sprung into action. Along with Falato, Rhodes, Debbie and Fred Thomas, and Terry Marvin, they formed “Team Jill” and set out to find a Superhero for Jill. In addition to launching a website and social media pages to push information, volunteers canvassed the city asking business owners to post flyers on their doors to help spread the word.

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Just as in Falato’s case, a match was to be found in the Rotary Club. In early March Evelyn Garfield announced to the club that fellow member Thomas Herdering, Director of Community Research at 99.1 The Ranch, was a match and would be Jill’s Superhero.

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Their surgery was scheduled for April 28, but then life ground to a halt in most of California, including Simi Valley. On April 2 Herdering announced that the surgery had been moved up to April 8, writing:

As many of you know I am slated to be a Kidney donor for my new friend Jill Abele. Originally the surgery was set for April 28th. But as you can image our world has been completely turned upside down in the last two weeks due to Coronavirus / COVID-19. The staff at UCLA where the surgery will be performed has been communicating with us over the last few days and instead of postponing the surgery their plan is to move it up to Wednesday, April 8th. The team at UCLA has Jill’s and my best interests at heart when making these decisions. And as you can imagine with the current Coronavirus environment, only Jill and I will be allowed to enter the hospital. Sadly, not even our spouses will be allowed in.

At this point there’s a few of you that are asking why would you do this for somebody you really didn’t know? In fact, that’s the question I want EVERYONE to ask themselves. Would YOU give a Kidney to save a perfect stranger? Most will say “No way!” Now please turn and look at or think of the most precious people in your life and ask “Would I give a Kidney to my Wife / Husband, Son / Daughter, Brother or Sister…?” My bet is that you would say “Of course I would!” And some of you just had the thought of, “But I wouldn’t do it for a stranger!” That’s a fair and natural response. But here’s the real question. What would you do if you couldn’t donate to that loved one because YOU aren’t a match? Wouldn’t you do just about anything to find someone to give? When I asked myself this simple line of questioning and thought of my wife Stephanie and our two sons, I felt helpless and sick! I instantly knew that the answer to volunteer for the process would be an easy YES.

For so many, they are comfortably giving in many other ways; money, time, services, shelter, love and the list goes on and on. We all have our various comfort zones. And I commend those people many times over because that is what they are led to do. At this time in my life I am completely at peace with this decision. But it’s not just me making this decision. My family needed to agree and they lovingly have.

Isn’t it interesting that God gave us two Kidneys? You only really need one. I keep having the thought of the parable about the rich man who went on a journey and entrusted his wealth to his servants. It’s The Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matthew 25:14-30). I keep thinking it applies to many of us with a healthy body and ability to donate a Kidney, piece of Liver, Bone Marrow, Blood, etc. What if it was a divine test? And for those who aren’t of faith, maybe it’s some kind of universal test or Karma?

Sure the timing isn’t ideal…OR is it truly the best time?

Jill Abele shared her thoughts – and thanks – in a Facebook post the night of April 7.

Tomorrow is the BIG day. I am at peace, but I am a little anxious because Ed will not be allowed to accompany me into the hospital – he must drop me off at the door and drive away.
I’d like to ask you to help my friend and donor Thomas Herdering. In order to make this happen, Thomas has to take time off of work. He is the sole supporter of his family of four.
Please take a moment to review the below link and consider donating to help the Herdering family. It would mean a lot to me and Ed. Thanks!
PS: Please follow the Seeking Jills Superhero page for updates.

The same evening hundreds of Simi Valley residents took part in an impromptu parade past both the Herdering and Abele homes to wish them well, organized by Team Jill.

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Thank you, Thomas, for being such an example of faith and generosity. You already know this, but not all heroes wear capes.

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(If you would like to contribute to the GoFundMe to help provide for living expenses for the Herdering family while Thomas recovers, you can do so here.)