For friend of Mahomet woman's family, kidney donation an 'easy' decision


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MAHOMET — Life can change in an instant, and for Mahomet's Linda Miller, it all changed with an unexpected phone call in early May.

Joel Shoemaker, the best friend of her eldest daughter, Sarah, was on the line. The two had graduated together from Mahomet-Seymour High School in 2002.

"He said, 'We're doing it! And it's all going to work out. It's all going to work out, Linda. I really believe that,'" Miller related.

Shoemaker had just informed his classmate's mother, who was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease at 18, that he wanted to be her kidney donor.

"It was almost like a gut reaction," said Shoemaker, a library director at Illinois Prairie District Public Library in Woodford County. "There was never a moment where I thought twice about it."

Linda Miller, a nurse at Carle Cancer Center's gynecology/oncology department, recalls spending a great deal of time driving Shoemaker and her daughter to and from all those high school theater rehearsals.

"When my daughter got a beater car when she turned 16, then she drove him all around," she joked. "They were like peas in a pod."

Shoemaker knew of Linda Miller's need for a kidney transplant, but he had no idea she didn't have a donor. That is until his sister, Roni Daugherty, informed him after reading a news article online.

"When my sister saw it on social media, she said, 'I'll give mine,' and I said, 'I'll give her mine,'" he said.

Suddenly, the now-60-year-old with 17 percent kidney function had hope.

"I was just so touched," Miller said, "I couldn't believe it — that two people in the same family volunteered."

"The best part (was) when he called me and said, 'Both of us are sending in our health form,'" Miller added. "He said, 'I'm getting all of the testing. I'm so excited. I'm so excited. I really want this to work out. I really want to give you my kidney.'

"Both siblings were matches. But as it turned out, Shoemaker's blood work somehow got there first," Miller said, "so they worked him up first."

The road ahead was long, with six grueling months of medical testing.

But then Shoemaker reached out with another life-changing phone call.

"'These are the two dates. What would you like to do?'" Miller said, remembering his call.

A date was set for Oct. 30.

For the Germantown Hills resident, the transplant operation was quick and relatively painless.

"I went in on Tuesday for the surgery," Shoemaker said. "They unhooked all of the machines on Wednesday night and then I was up leaving Thursday midday," he added. "I was really blessed with a speedy recovery and had no issues. I have a scar, but I don't even really notice it at this point, so it's pretty much back to normal."

Miller still lives with her native kidneys. That's three kidneys total.

"I would like to have those (the failed kidneys) out because they're very uncomfortable and quite painful at times," she said.

Understandably so, as Miller told The Mahomet Citizen in May that she had 20 pounds of cysts in her kidneys.

Her goal is to have them removed in six to eight months, once she is stable and finished healing.

But now six weeks post-op, the mother of two — youngest daughter Katie Walk is a Middletown Prairie Elementary kindergarten teacher — and grandmother of a 10-year-old and 8-month-old has a new outlook on life.

"There are still good people in the world," she said. "Sometimes we think it's not so, but it is so. It renewed my faith in humanity that there are many good people in the world that are willing to help others."

And as for Shoemaker?

"He's my superhero," Miller said. "And he always will be for such a sacrifice."

Superhero indeed.

The decision to donate a kidney was so "easy" for Shoemaker to make, but his advice for others considering becoming a donor is to understand that it's "such a personal decision."

"I would encourage people to explore the option because there's so many advancements in the technology and in the medicine," he said.

"It's not necessarily easy to live with one kidney, but it's easier (now), and the cool thing is they treat you really well and they told me if I ever needed a kidney I would be bumped up to the top (of the transplant list) because I'm a living donor, which I think is really cool," he added. "It's a really cool opportunity."

As for Miller's future, she's set to retire from Carle on Dec. 31 after a 41-year career. Having traveled on safari to Kenya and Tanzania in March, Miller admits that once she's healed, she may even catch another case of the travel bug.

"There's lots of national parks I want to go to still, and I could probably go to Canada," she said.