A match made at WCHS
April is National Donate Life month; this is the latest in a series of
stories this month about organ donations.
When volleyball player Kennedy Morgan suffered a torn anterior cruciate
ligament (ACL) during her senior year at Woodford County High School,
Walker Terhune, the school’s longtime athletic trainer, helped her recover.
Four years later, when Terhune needed a new kidney, Kennedy’s mother,
Dee Morgan, gave him one of hers.
The surgery took place Feb. 26 at UK Chandler Hospital and both patients
said it was successful, with Morgan leaving the hospital two days later
and Terhune the day after that.
Morgan said she began to consider donating about three years ago, long
before she knew Terhune was suffering from an autoimmune disease
gradually robbing his kidneys of their ability to function. She said she
signed up to donate a kidney to a person she didn’t know in another
county, but that fell through.
Then, last October, Kennedy forwarded a LEX-18 story about Terhune’s
search for a living kidney donor and said, “Hey, Mom, you can do this.”
She told Kennedy it wasn’t that easy, but began to look into the matter
and fill out the necessary paperwork and take the necessary tests. Her
O-positive blood type was a plus and the process began to move forward,
but Morgan didn’t tell Terhune – “Because I didn’t want to get his hopes
up,” she said.
Meanwhile, Terhune, the WCHS athletic trainer since 2005, was watching
his kidney function levels fluctuate from below 20 percent, which allows
people to join kidney transplant lists, to a bit above that. He’d been
diagnosed with IgA nephropathy in 2016 and was put on the inactive
transplant list about the time he was pushing Kennedy through her ACL
rehab. Dialysis followed – usually when he felt badly – but he was aware
he would eventually need a new kidney.
“I knew I had a lot of people who were being tested (to be) living
donors, so I was holding out hope for that,” he said.
Last December, his kidney function dropped to 12-15 percent – and this
time, it didn’t rebound. His transplant team told him he needed to
consider going active on the list, which would mean accepting a kidney
from the first available donor, living or not.
The next month, Morgan, who still had Terhune’s cell phone number from
when he helped Kennedy before and after her ACL surgery, texted and
asked him to call her.
“It was really the best call ever,” Morgan said of a conversation that
began with some confusion on Terhune’s end.
“She said, ‘Hey, this is Dee Morgan, I don’t know if you remember me –
I’m Kennedy’s mom,’” Terhune said. “Immediately, I thought this has to
be something Kennedy-related, because I don’t have another reason to
talk to Dee. I mean, she’s very nice, but we’re not in the same social
circles or anything like that.”
She told him it wasn’t Kennedy she’d called about, but him.
“She said, ‘I’ve been holding off on this because I didn’t want to get
your hopes up, but I’m a match,’” Terhune said. “It’s one of those
things that you almost don’t believe.”
He asked if she’d undergone the necessary testing to see if she was a
match; she said she had.
“When she told me, the feeling of just relief was – I mean, you really
can’t describe it,” he said.
The next day, he and Morgan got the call from UK to set a date for their
surgeries. (Each has high praise for the staff that treated them.)
Terhune said at first, he wasn’t sure what to say to someone giving a
piece of herself to him. “You just can’t thank somebody enough. Dee says
just the fact that I’m living and healthy and all that is enough thanks
to her, but you still want to constantly want to say, ‘Thank you,’ he said.
The day after their surgeries, he visited Morgan’s recovery room to see
how she was doing.
“She was actually in more pain than I was,” he said, “and I felt a
little guilty about that.”
Terhune, who’s scheduled to return to work late next month, said he
didn’t utter the sort of words one might see in a movie, but rather
something he’d already said and will say again and again: Thank you.
“I could say it a thousand times a day,” he said.
As for Morgan, her six weeks of recovery pales in comparison to the gift
she was grateful to give, she said.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better recipient,” she said. “I know he’s
going to take care of – I don’t like to say it’s my kidney anymore – our