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home : education : schools February 5, 2016

4/9/2013 1:43:00 PM
Sisters man gives gift of life
Ron Robertson and  Ena Johannson celebrate the gift of life with Paul Drake and Diane Tolzman. photo by Jim Cornelius
+ click to enlarge
Ron Robertson and Ena Johannson celebrate the gift of life with Paul Drake and Diane Tolzman. photo by Jim Cornelius

For Paul Drake, the decision was "really a no-brainer." His wife's lifelong friend needed a kidney. He had two and there was a working match. He'd give her one.

Paul, his wife Diane Tolzman, and her friend Ena Johannson told their story on Sunday at a Donate Life Northwest gathering at the American Red Cross Pacific Northwest Blood Services Center in Bend to mark Donate Life Month.

Diane and Ena are lifelong friends. Diane recalls: "Ena Johannson and I met when she was in the 1st grade and I was in the 2nd grade in a small Oregon town called Reedville. We became inseparable best friends and from that moment on we were there for each other through all of life's ups and downs, including watching The Wizard of Oz and skipping down the street arm and arm singing 'We're Off to See the Wizard'... riding our bikes to Bob's Market for candy, the death of Ena's mom in a car accident when she was 12, first boyfriends, slumber parties, girls' week-ends away, weddings (we were maids of honor for each other at our first and second marriages) and births of our children. Ena's brother even introduced me to my husband, Paul."

Paul and Diane moved to Sisters last June; Ena lives in Idaho. And life was darkening for her. She congenitally had only one kidney - and it was failing. Paul noted that Ena was a constant presence on the speaker-phone in their house. But as Ena's condition worsened, "that voice on the speaker phone got quieter, and the topics discussed got more serious."

Ena was qualified to receive an organ transplant, but there was no living match in her family. She was looking at up to five years on a waiting list, undergoing regular dialysis.

Paul thought, "Somebody has to do something about this."

At a physical, he got blood-typed. He matched Ena. The next step was tissue typing. There was a "half-match" or a "brother-sister match."

There was no hesitation. He called Ena and told her he was a match and would a transplant on July 10 work for her?

"I was speechless," Ena said. "I have to say it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life to have someone say, 'I'm going to give you this, no questions asked.'"

Ena described "miracle after miracle" on the road to her transplant. Diane made a raffle quilt that raised a whopping $13,000 for medical expenses. Family members put on garage sales; her granddaughter raised $202.20 selling her toys.

"This is such an amazing story, because the love just kept growing," Ena said. "It touched so many lives."

Ironically, Diane had worked professionally in the organ transplant field, working with families undergoing the stresses and strains of the procedure. She knew what the whole thing entailed: Risk for the donor; risk for the recipient; and the chance that the transplant would fail.

"It was probably one of the most difficult days I've had, sitting in that surgical waiting room," she recalled. But the news was good. Paul came through the surgery with flying colors. Then the surgeon told her: "The kidney is in Ena and it's making urine."


Donate Life Northwest, whose mission is to save and enhance lives through the promotion of organ, eye, and tissue donation is celebrating National Donate Life Month in April. Every day in April, people across the U.S. make a special effort to celebrate the tremendous generosity of those who have saved lives through organ, eye and tissue donation and to encourage more Americans to join their state donor registry.

Part of the observance is the unveiling of the annual Threads of Life Quilt, honoring donors and recipients. Diane Tolzman made two quilt blocks marking Paul's donation to Ena.

Officials of Donate Life Northwest note that not only did the donation help Ena, it also helps another person who moves up on the waiting list.

Another person who, like Ena, may one day stand before the Threads of Life Quilt and say, "Hallelujah! I'm alive!"

For more information, visit

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