It’s the story of two people who are a match in a perfect and unexpected way. In July 2019, Naperville resident Aaron Rhoden suffered a stroke due to his high blood pressure. Afterwards, his kidney functionality was so low that he needed a transplant. That’s when an “unusual alignment” happened according to his doctor.
His wife, Tonya Rhoden, didn’t hesitate to take the tests necessary and the two found out they were a perfect match. The couple, married since 2016, said one in every between 50,000 and 100,000 spouses will be a match. The two are “six out of 10 markers identical,” said Aaron in a story we did with the two back in April before the kidney transplant.
Aaron and Tonya’s surgery was originally scheduled for May 7. But after some complications and his body not being ready for it at that time, it was a success on June 21.
“Knowing that we quote on quote made it was just a wealth of emotions that words escape me,” said Aaron. “I think overall if we had to do it all over again we would,” said Tonya. “But I think going forward just understanding that – we don’t want to take it for granted that we’re both here together after such a significant surgery.”
After the Surgery
Aaron had to stay in the ICU at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago for six days following surgery, and Tonya’s recovery was quicker than anyone anticipated. Within a couple of hours she was able to walk around on her own. “Each time we look upon it, it just feels guided,” said Aaron. “There’s just so much that just continues to work out for us that we just are humbled. And it just reinforces our love and we want to spread that message.”
So four months later, does the couple feel like they can breathe a sigh of relief? “Now I think I’m at a stage where – not understanding when to let go and that he is ok,” said Tonya. “Its been such a drastic emotion from possibly losing him to now things are all clear. You just kind of are waiting around. You want to stay positive in your faith but it’s like you’re trying to tip your toe into the pool and put your pinky to make sure it’s not too cold to jump in. And you want to make sure that it’s just right. I think that’s where we’re at.”
“The moment after surgery that I saw this woman again for the first time is one of those moments I’ll never forget. We hugged and we cried and it’s just indescribable,” said Aaron. “But then sometime after it becomes more like – there’s at least a couple of days of now what, what’s next, what do we do now, now that this is not a cloud looming over us?”
While they’ve overcome what may have been the biggest hurdle in this two-year span since Aaron suffered a stroke, the couple isn’t shying away from sharing some of the challenges during and after the transplant.
“No marriage is sunshine and roses all the time,” said Aaron, “We still are deeply in love, it’s just a matter of learning and finding that new balance because we’ve been so used to her just wearing the cape and me being not a damsel in distress, but you know the guy in distress.”
“That’s what my life became. It became Aaron,” said Tonya. “And so now I want to be able to live with Aaron and celebrate with Aaron but trying to navigate all that again has been – it’s probably one of the biggest transformations that I’ve had to experience in my life as his wife and as an individual. When you become your spouse’s caregiver, you kind of lose your own identity.”
One challenge for the couple is the pandemic because Aaron is immunocompromised. Even so, the couple is moving forward. Both are going back to work full-time and recently attended the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois gala. They hope to work with the organization, and maybe even speak at a Ted Talk in the future as that’s something on Tonya’s list of things she wants to do.
“We’re hoping that to share our story, one story at a time, [we] hopefully impact individuals and give people hope, guidance advocacy, and just bring awareness that there is life after transplant,” said Tonya.
“We believe we’ve got to be impacting somebody’s life each time we do this,” said Aaron. “That someone that didn’t know before now knows and has hope, has a different outlook, and can grasp the possibilities and potentially see light at the end of the tunnel.”
It’s been a long journey but “no regrets. I would do it all over again,” said Tonya. “And I would do it for her. It’s just the way we are,” said Aaron.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
photo courtesy: Tonya Rhoden
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