WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – You may know his voice from Wichita radio. JJ Hayes hosts the morning show on country station 101.3 KFDI, updating Kansans on news, traffic and spinning tracks to help jumpstart listeners’ days.

It was also Hayes’ voice that connected his late wife, Michelle, with an organ donor as her health was declining.

In 2015, Michelle was in end-stage renal failure, with her kidneys operating at 17%. This jumpstarted some “very real” conversations for the couple about life, death, and caregiving. Hayes tested to see if he was a match to donate his kidney to Michelle.

KSN photo

“It’s till death do us part. It’s for better or worse,” explains Hayes.

Hayes explains he lives his life transparently on-air at KFDI. He spoke openly about Michelle’s diagnosis over the airwaves.

As it turns out, the perfect person was listening.

“Cindy, who is now considered family, she was a listener at the time. Complete stranger, heard the story and she felt compelled and talked about it with her family, and she was moved to get tested to see if she was a match,” Hayes said.

Cindy was the perfect match for Michelle.

While many think of organ/tissue/eye donation as a box to check on your driver’s license should tragedy strike, Cindy is considered a living donor. She lives, eats and breathes with one less kidney because the other one is with Michelle.

Michelle and JJ, courtesy photo

The transplant process took about two years and was not without struggle. The couple traveled to Kansas City for the 15-day transplant process. Hayes said his wife experienced an allergic reaction to the anti-rejection medication and coded twice, nearly dying.

It was also the KC hospital where he found his faith. A family in the waiting room praying over him had a “profound impact” on Hayes.

Post-transplant, Michelle didn’t receive the immediate boost of energy and recovery but managed to push through the process and stay positive.

“Organ donation, as far as my story, gave me three more years with my wife that I wouldn’t have had, and we had so many great memories and experiences in those three years that I wouldn’t have had if Michelle hadn’t gotten that kidney,” Hayes explains.

Michelle and Hayes enjoyed time cooking together, traveling and fostering dogs and cats through Wichita Animal Action League.

“She wanted to just make a difference with the second chance she had been given,” Hayes said.

Courtesy JJ Hayes

Michelle passed away in October 2020 after returning home from a hospital battle with COVID-19.

In the time since Michelle’s passing, Hayes has remained an advocate for organ/tissue/eye donation for the Midwest Transplant Network. He is their “green ribbon champion” and a registered organ donor himself.

“If you give that person and their family, another six weeks, another two years, another five years, you know, again, there are memories to be made,” Hayes said.

Facts About Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation (via Midwest Transplant Network)

Throughout the United States, the need for organ donation is significant:

  • More than 109,000 men, women and children currently await lifesaving organ transplants
  • Tens of thousands more await life-enhancing tissue or cornea transplants
  • On average, 20 people a day die because of the lack of available organs for transplants
  • Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list
  • 95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor, but only 60% are registered

For more up-to-date data, visit organdonor.gov

In our region, approximately 2,000 people in Missouri and 500 people in Kansas await lifesaving transplants. By registering to be an organ and tissue donor, you can:

  • Save as many as eight lives, which may include releasing two people from dialysis treatments by donating kidneys
  • Enhance the lives of up to 100 more people, which may include giving sight to two people by donating corneas, and helping to repair injured bones, joints and other tissues through bone and tissue donation