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NSU professors bonded for life after one donates kidney to the other

Two Northwestern State University art professors are bonded for life after Matt DeFord (left)...
Two Northwestern State University art professors are bonded for life after Matt DeFord (left) donated a kidney to his long-time friend and mentor Michael Yankowski (right), an act that both agreed was sanctioned by divine intervention.(NSU)
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 9:42 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2021 at 11:12 PM CDT
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NATCHITOCHES, La. (KSLA) - Two years ago, NSU professor Michael Yankowski was told that his kidneys were failing and that he would need a transplant.

“Once it kind of sunk in that it was real, I started to worry what should I do,” he said. “I put the word out to my family, and none of them were viable; so I just sat on it and said let’s see what God does for us.”

Yankowski went to his department chairman and friend Matt DeFord and told him the situation. The two have been friends since DeFord joined the faculty at NSU in 2005.

“I felt like it was something he needed to know if I ever had to take time off or have issues,” Yankowski said. “I just wanted to let him know. He asked me what my blood type was. I told him and I just didn’t think any more of that. I thought he would ask someone at his church. But when he came back the next day and said he would do it, I was just blown away.”

“As soon as he said he was looking for a kidney, I started to wonder if that was something I could do,” DeFord recalled. “I asked him what his blood type was. I called my doctor. There really was no second thought; I just went for it. I prayed and I said ‘Lord if you don’t want me to do this, don’t make me a match,’ simple as that. When I found out I was a match, I thought I was meant to do this.”

The surgeries were conducted July 16 at the John C. McDonald Transplant Center at Willis-Knighton North in Shreveport. The day of the procedure, Yankowski had 13% kidney function. Now, a month after the successful surgery, he has 53% function.

“He is my hero,” Yankowski said. “My family loves him. He is such a wonderful person. How can I say thank you for my life? You gave me such a beautiful present and I am so grateful for that.”

“I am just so grateful I had the opportunity to do this, Michael,” DeFord said. “It has taught me unforgettable lessons that I would have never learned any other way. It’s taught me a lot about empathy, who I am, and a love for fellow man. I can say there were several moments where I realized the incredible value of doing this. One of them was when I came home and I was struggling with this new normal, there was a big, beautiful bouquet of flowers that came in the mail. It was from Michael’s two daughters. I broke down. I realized it was all worth it to help someone’s dad, someone’s grandpa. He’s got a little part of me in him forever.”

With the procedure a month behind them, DeFord and Yankowski were recovering at home in different ways. DeFord is on medical leave until Monday, Aug. 30. Yankowski will be on medical leave the entire semester and is checking in with his doctors twice a week.

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