When Dawn Finley's first kidney transplant failed after just three years, her son, Jose Ortiz, became determined to give his mother another chance at life. He saw how hard dialysis was on her and how she did not travel outside their home state of New Jersey to visit friends because she felt tethered to the machine that sustained her life. "The social impact of dialysis," he says, "really struck me."
After a year of setbacks in the process, Jose donated his kidney to Dawn in August 2007. Dawn was extremely grateful to Jose, and he noticed a "remarkable" physical change in her almost right away — she looked 10 years younger and full of life after the transplant. His gift gave his family nearly 10 more years with Dawn, who sadly passed away in October 2016. Her memory lives on, though, thanks to Jose.
Jose started a trivia company, TriviAddiction, in 2017 and he had been hosting many in-person trivia events before COVID-19 made that impossible. Shortly after the pandemic hit the U.S., Jose moved his trivia company online so he could host events for people stuck at home all over the country. Around the same time, he also decided he wanted to give back to a kidney charity in memory of Dawn.
Jose began a fundraiser for the American Kidney Fund (AKF) through KidneyNation, AKF's do-it-yourself fundraising program. He thought the program seemed easy enough — people could pay a small fee to play trivia and have fun, while he honored his mom. He says that what struck him about AKF is the fact that 97 cents of every dollar donated is spent giving back to the kidney community, and that "raising just $1,000 can help five kids with kidney disease go to summer camp" and still get the medical treatment they need.
In April, Jose hosted a Dawn Finley Memorial Trivia Benefit and invited AKF staff to play, which was loads of fun and raised $1,800 for our programs and services! Every trivia question he asked was inspired in some way by his mom, from her interests to the music and movies she liked. Jose says that Dawn's "lasting legacy" is the importance she placed on spending time with family and friends, so it is no surprise that he planned every aspect of the event with such passion for the woman he was so close to and who still means so much to him. "When I think of her," he says, "I always think of her working to spend every minute she could with those she loved."
Besides raising funds for AKF, Jose wants everyone to know what it is like to save someone's life through living organ donation. He says that if you are healthy enough and have the chance to donate a kidney to someone in need, you should because "it is an opportunity to give life while maintaining yours."
For more information about AKF's KidneyNation do-it-yourself fundraising platform, visit KidneyNation.org.
With just one law in place to protect living organ donors like Jose, New Jersey currently has a D grade on AKF's annual State of the States: Living Donor Protection Report Card . Learn more about New Jersey's law, see how your state compares and let your members of Congress know you want them to support living organ donors at livingdonor.KidneyFund.org .