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VCU Health presents investigative reporter Diane Walker with its inaugural ‘Community Champion Award’

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 8:16 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - NBC12 has great news to share during National Donate Life Month. Monday, Diane Walker received the “Community Champion Award” from the leaders of VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center.

Diane was chosen as the first recipient of this prestigious honor for her recurring news reporting in 2019 of organ transplantation, living donations, care advancements and storytelling.

“We want to honor the work that you’ve (Diane Walker) done and raise awareness in the community about the goodness of organ transplantation. There’s such a need for organs. There’s so many patients who are waiting for transplants, dying while waiting. So, organ donation is truly life-saving,” VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center Administrative Director Dr. Marlon Levy said.

Diane graciously received the award and thanked VCU Health while using the opportunity to check up on two remarkable people who are now friends for life, an amazing mother of three who donated a kidney to a Clover Hill High graduate who needed a living donor right away.

Two years ago in April, William ‘Woody’ Johnson got the second chance he prayed for through Joanna Wylie. Today, they remain friends.

“Sometimes she’ll just pop up on my mind, and I’ll just message her and ask her how she and her family are doing. She’s always with me. She’s always on my mind. She saved my life,” Woody said.

Diane Walker was there when Woody and Joanna Wylie hugged each other for the first time after Woody received Joanna’s kidney.

“I didn’t expect anything from Woody at all. He doesn’t owe me anything,” Joanna said.

Erasing fear and raising awareness about the critical need for “living” organ donors were the great motivators for Joanna back in 2019, and today she’s even more passionate about getting people to feel reassured about giving the gift of life.

“I wanted so badly to put some positivity out there in the world because Woody and I might look different, we might have different likes and dislikes, but at the root of everything, we’re the same. I did this donation obviously because I saw your story, and if my child needed it, I would want someone to do it for them,” Joanna said.

Woody calls Joanna his ‘A-one’ and says she’s with him forever. Joanna says their friendship since the organ transplantation happened organically.

“He sends me the sweetest texts out of the blue, being the sweetheart that he is. So, it makes my day,” Joanna said.

“She went out of her way to help me. So, I have to keep her posted. Let her know how it’s going. Let her know how her kidney’s treating me. We’re peanut butter and jelly now,” Woody said.

Joanna tells Woody, “You don’t owe me anything.”

Woody’s kidney transplantation was robot-assisted. VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center was the first on the East Coast to offer it, and Woody was the 12th patient to undergo the minimally invasive surgery with small cuts and few stitches. The center says it performed 54 living donor transplants last year and a record 459 organ transplantations, including liver and heart transplants in one year. It’s the largest center in Virginia.

Woody still stays in touch with his VCU family and says, “I have to go for my updates. There are still doctors that I talk to. They stuck with me when I needed them the most.”

“I would do it again tomorrow. Everyone should do it,” Joanna said.

Woody’s kidneys shut down due to high blood pressure gone untreated by doctors. Woody says, doctors did not prescribe medication because of his young age, until he had a football injury. Kidney disease kept him tethered to life support dialysis five days a week, four hours and 26 minutes a day.

Since the transplant, he is noticeably different. He got his glow back.

“Life is good. Can’t really complain. I’m back working and doing the things that I love,” Woody said.

Woody says after NBC12 shared his story, VCU received 40 calls from people who wanted to be tested. He got a new kidney within two months.

Joanna remembers hearing the date for Woody’s operation in one of Diane Walker’s reports. It just happened to be the same date doctors had given her to remove her kidney.

“We went running into the family room and you said the date that my donation date was, and we started crying and screaming. So, then I knew for sure that it was Woody and not someone else,” Joanna said.

Joanna says she feels perfect having given the gift of an organ.

Joanna said, “so, I loved your stories keeping this alive, and hopefully, more people will keep it going” by becoming an organ donor. Woody chimed in saying, “Just do it”.

Of course, Woody’s mom, Carol Pride - once his primary caregiver - is forever grateful to Joanna.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a “living” organ donor, click here.

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