News from Illinois CancerCare

Kenne & Desi’s Story

It started with an email from our Illinois CancerCare physician Dr. Kumar, “I learnt of an amazing series of events in the Bloomington office yesterday… I have suspected that there are saintly people in the world, I did not know that they are this close to us.” The story that unfolded was one that would prove this statement true…

The Story

Kenne Rushton has been a scheduler with Illinois CancerCare for over seven years. If you have been to the Bloomington Normal Clinic, you have most likely seen her smiling face that seems to light up the whole center from her corner of the room. It is well known what an invaluable part Kenne plays in our Illinois CancerCare family. It was not well known at the time that her kidneys were failing her.

Kenne has a genetic kidney disease that affects 1 in 25,000 people in the U.S. called polycystic kidney disease. This disease squeezes the life out of your kidneys over your lifetime. When kidneys fail to perform their normal function, the waste products accumulate in the blood and begin to poison the body. There is no cure for polycystic kidney disease. Patients have two options: dialysis or a kidney transplant.  At the point Dr. Kumar sent his email, Kenne’s kidneys were functioning at 9% and, although she was on a donor waitlist for over two years, she was told to be prepared that a donor may never come. Time was running out.

Enter Desirae Linden, team lead nurse at the Illinois CancerCare Bloomington Normal Clinic. Desi has a unique background. Before joining the Illinois CancerCare team two years ago, she was a nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in the pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant units. In her role on the transplant side, Desi witnessed the day to day ups and downs of her bone marrow transplant families. There was so much waiting: waiting for the match results, waiting for the bone marrow, waiting on the transplant. In her words, there was “joy, worry and heartache” as the nursing staff would go through these emotions with the family – or at least as best as they could understand.

Desi found out about Kenne’s need for a kidney from another Illinois CancerCare coworker and it started a slow but steady chain of events. After she could not get the thought out of her head, Desi talked to her husband about “what if” she was a match. Then she started all of the paperwork, blood tests and evaluations to see biologically “what if” she could actually do it. This required calculated juggling of days off and lots of secret keeping from her friends and coworkers. If Desi was in fact a match, she wanted the final decision to be something her and her husband made between just them. In April, all of the evaluations on Desi’s part were completed, but she would still need to wait 3 more months to hear the final answer. By the time the call came in July, Desi was certain she was going to gift Kenne her kidney if it was a match – and it was!

Desi was working at the Illinois CancerCare Ottawa Clinic when she heard the good news. As soon as she could, she headed back to Bloomington where Kenne was working and got the rest of the staff to assure that Kenne would still be there a little past closing time. While another coworker took video to share with the team, Desi nonchalantly asked Kenne what went in to finding a kidney donor. Kenne thoroughly and (too) slowly for Desi went through step by step all that finding a donor and then evaluating the match would entail, but Desi stopped her toward the end & said, “What if I told you that I have already called and did all of that and I just found out that I got cleared to give you my kidney today?”

Kenne was speechless. She says now that July 17th at 5:15 p.m. was the best day of her life. All she could do was grab Desi and cry. The rest of the staff exclaimed, “She said yes to the kidney!”

In his podcast “Hidden Stories with Jeremy Fulkerson” hosted by Kenne’s nephew in North Carolina, Jeremy interviews both his Aunt Kenne and Desi about this decision.

Kenne: “I’ll never forget Desi saying, ‘My mom told me if you don’t need it, donate it’ and God bless her heart that’s exactly what she is doing. And, I just hope that from that kidney I get some of Desi that will be with me every day.  She is just an incredible person, nurse, friend – she’s just an amazing person. To do this for someone that she has only known for 2 years….that says what kind of a person she is.  Desi, I owe my new life to you. Thank you.”

Desi: “I’m just grateful to be healthy enough to do this. I really do feel like I’m just as lucky as Kenne that I can do this. The tests I had were just boxes to check off and, to me, that’s amazing in itself… that I can just give away a kidney and basically take a 3 month setback and reset with a few scars but nothing much else…I do feel very lucky.”

Through some emotion, Jeremy also shares what his mother’s (Kenne’s sister) kidney donor meant to him: “She did not just give a kidney. She gave a mother to me, a grandma to my kids, a friend to many friends, and a sister to her siblings… and there is not a word for it. It’s not selfless – it’s beyond that. This gift compounds. It’s not just a kidney. You are making this world a better place.”

Back to Dr. Kumar’s email to the Illinois CancerCare staff:

Kenne our scheduler has a kidney condition and needs transplant. 3 people in our office had volunteered: a scheduler, a nurse and one more person in secret. This third person secretly got tested over four months on her off days – went to U Chicago –and yesterday she was told that she is good to donate her kidney to Kenne.

For some time now, I have suspected that there are saintly people in the world. I did not know that they are this close to us. This third person is my team lead nurse: Desirae Linden.

There is a kidney themed pot luck in the Bloomington office tomorrow.



To hear more, including an update on the successful surgeries completed last February, tune in to the podcast Hidden Stories with Jeremy Fulkerson episode named “Kenne Rushton and Desirae” from 3/13/2019.

Why Mario and Luigi?

The lengthy process of getting “worked up” to finally declare Desi’s kidney a match required hours in waiting rooms. Desi joked with her husband Jeff that she was naming her kidneys out of boredom – Luigi on the left and Mario on the right. Now, Kenne gets to keep Luigi forever – and the Illinois CancerCare team will never look at those Mario Kart characters without thinking of this beautiful sacrifice for a better life.