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A Story of Giving

This is the story of how a chance encounter during summer school sparked a single act of selflessness that changed lives across the country. 

It began at Cesar Chavez Elementary a few years ago, where Karen Nguyen was partnered with a fellow teacher, Therese Macy, and the two quickly became friends. 

“While we became friends, her son began to get ill and he was later diagnosed with kidney disease that led to kidney failure,” said Karen Nguyen, now a Kindergarten teacher at Downtown Elementary. 

The two were catching up during summer school last year when Evergreen Special Education Teacher Meghan van Heerden was walking by, releasing her class. 

“I didn’t know them,” said van Heerden. “I overheard a conversation regarding her son Joseph. And when I asked about what they were talking about, they were talking about how Joseph needed a kidney.”

A woman of faith and generosity, van Heerden decided to step in. 

“Megan said, ‘Well, I’ll donate,’ and that’s kind of how it started,” said Macy.

“Honestly, for me, it was, ‘here’s a person that needs a kidney,’ and I just felt, at that moment, that sounds like that’s what I needed to do,” said van Heerden. “He’s got a daughter around the same age as my daughter, so, so many just factors at that moment. The other thing is, I hope somebody would do that for me.”

Megan and her husband Rudolph, aka Rudy, went through a process to see if either of them were a match for Joseph, and while Megan wasn’t, Rudy was a match for someone else. 

“Rudolph gave a kidney in [Joseph’s] name, and put him on the national registry,” said Macy. “So it allowed him to get a kidney from anywhere.”

This created a domino effect of donors, which meant this one act led to five others across the country getting a new, healthy kidney. 

“I was thrilled because I watched him go through dialysis and dialysis is no joke,” said Macy. "It's hard on your body. It’s hard on your emotions. It’s hard physically, emotionally, everything. So I was thrilled that he finally was going to have a kidney and have the beginning of a new life for him and my granddaughter, for his daughter.”

“This is a one and a miracle chance that two people who both were working summer school who had never met before would end up with another five people getting a kidney donation,” said Nguyen. 

“Every time I get a new update on how Joseph is doing, it brings me to tears because I can just see how excited and how much this has changed his life and when I talk to my husband, he is ecstatic,” said van Heerden. “My husband is one of the most humble men I know and I love him to pieces, and just the fact that he did this just amazes me.

“I do believe that when people are good and they keep trying, I think that you can eventually get what you need if you don’t give up,” said Nguyen. 

“I’m thrilled,” said Macy. “I know he’s going to have a great life.”

If you are inspired by this story and would like to learn more about organ donation, you can visit Donate Life California or the USC Anatomical Gift Program website