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Last modified: Monday, August 3, 2009

Bloomington-Herald Times Article

IU senior from Greene County gives gift of life with kidney donation

By Mike Leonard 331-4368

Jonathan Stewart had already lost a dear friend to kidney failure when his beloved uncle began to suffer from a dramatic decline in kidney function, caused by diabetes.

The 22-year-old Bloomfield native and Indiana University student decided, without hesitation, that he'd donate one of his young and healthy kidneys. But his uncle, Joseph Anthony Hajdinak, of rural Solsberry, became too ill too quickly and died of a heart attack last November before Stewart could give him the gift he so ardently wanted to give.

Stewart took his name off the donor list but had an epiphany during a visit to his uncle's grave.

"I felt such an emptiness knowing that I had this gift to give him, and he didn't live long enough to get it," he explained last week. "But then I thought, I need to pursue this. I can't save him now, but I can save someone."

Friday morning, the IU senior gave that kidney to Krishna Marcoux, a 30-year-old woman from North Vernon.

"It's one thing to do something like that for a loved one," her husband, Ron Marcoux said. "But it's something else altogether to give one to someone out of sheer human kindness. We're still speechless."

Krishna Marcoux was a complete stranger to Stewart, but there was a connection. Stewart works part-time at Best Buy in Bloomington and had talked about his planned organ donation to his manager, Joe Marcoux.

"I've never had a manager in my life who's been such a friend and father figure to me," Stewart said last week. "When I told him I still wanted to give a kidney to someone who needed one, he said there are a lot of people out there in dire straits, and that his sister-in-law was one of them."

Krishna Marcoux already had suffered more illnesses than a woman her age could expect. When she was 21, she learned the migraine headaches she'd suffered since roughly age 14 were actually the result of uncontrolled high blood pressure, and that she'd already lost 70 percent of normal kidney function. Her doctor warned her when she married Ron more than eight years ago that she should not attempt to have children.

After eight years of stable blood pressure and no further decrease in kidney function, her doctor said he thought her risk factors were acceptable enough to pursue childbearing. Then she learned that she'd developed a cyst on her ovary, and she underwent a partial hysterectomy. Six months later, she learned that she was pregnant. But after the birth of daughter, Madison, almost two years ago, her kidney function plummeted, and she was put on the transplant list.

She was told it might be three or four years before she get a donor, and that dialysis soon might be necessary.

Then, one day, out of the proverbial clear blue sky, her brother-in-law Joe called. He told her not to get too excited, but one of his employees at Best Buy wanted to donate a kidney to someone who needed one. And he wanted to see if Marcoux was a match.

"They were ecstatic when the tests came back," Stewart said. "Krishna called to thank me and I said 'Do not say thank you. I don't want to ever hear those words from you. It's going to be a gift to me to know that you're going to be able to sit down with your daughter one day and braid her hair, or play with Barbies or see her off to the senior prom.' She was shocked," he said with a chuckle. "I just love the idea it's Joe's sister-in-law, and it's someone who I will know and be in contact with after it's all over."

The organ transplant surgery was planned for July 31 at the IU Medical Center in Indianapolis. Stewart and Krishna Marcoux met for the first time a week ago at the Olive Garden restaurant in Bloomington.

"She and I are complete polar opposites in the spectrum of life," Jonathan said. "But we're also similar in many ways. I'm already Uncle Stewy to Krishna and her family."

Saturday afternoon, both patients were recovering from what doctors told them was a successful surgery. Marcoux even managed to get out of her hospital bed and into a chair by midafternoon. Her nurse described that as "extremely good progress."

In another wing of the hospital, Stewart sat up in his bed. "I feel like sh--," he said with a grin. Complications during the organ harvesting procedure turned what was supposed to be a three-hour operation into five. "The meds hardly made a dent in my pain. But I'll be OK."

Stewart, the son of Dave and Anne Stewart of Bloomfield, still plans to take classes at IU in the fall.

"I may need to get around with a wheelchair at first, but I'm supposed to get better pretty quickly after 6-8 weeks," he said.

He also said, despite the considerable pain he was feeling Saturday, he'd do it all again, absolutely.

"I've learned two things about myself in life," he said prior to the surgery. "One is that I can make anybody and everybody laugh. The other is that my blood type is the universal donor (O negative). I've always known I have the opportunity and honor to give blood or whatever I can give to make someone's life better."

Stewart's sister, Krissy, sat with her brother at the hospital Saturday and acknowledged that she and others had advised against being a kidney donor.

"I tried to talk him out of it," she said. "But I see that his motives are noble, and he did it for the good of someone else. His selflessness moves me."

"People said, you know, you may be taking years off your life by doing this," Jonathan Stewart said. "To me, it doesn't matter. That argument is irrelevant. The big guy upstairs knows what my plan is."

Krishna Marcoux is happy to be a part of that plan.

"Jonathan is just incredible in every sense of the word. I still don't have words to describe what has happened to me," she said. "I will never understand what I did to deserve this."