Kidney Chain Reaction Gives Gift of Life 

‘Over 600,000 Americans are on dialysis and many don’t know they have another option’ – Leesa Thompson (right) with friends (from left) Jeff Fruithandler, Beth Siegelbaum, Ed Holowinko

Five years after receiving a life-saving kidney, Leesa Thompson is dedicating her days to helping others find their own miracles.   

“Living donors make miracles happen,” Thompson says. [February is Donor Month and March is National Kidney Awareness Month.] 

The 67-year-old Cortlandt resident has committed her life to helping find donors through a specialty kidney community Toastmasters group — the first of its kind — and through her own kidney coach advocacy work.  

Sarah Cossette and I started Kidney Stories ToastMasters because the kidney community needs a place where they can learn public speaking and leadership skills and that is what ToastMasters does best,” says Thompson, who also is VP Membership of Peekskill Toastmasters, which Cossette co-founded. 

“I train clients to ask for help,” says Thompson, “not necessarily in getting a kidney but sharing their story so someone could come forward and be a donor.”  

For many recipients, kidneys are harvested from the deceased, but living kidney donations are preferable because they lead to better outcomes for the recipient and increase the supply of available kidneys, while posing little risk to the donor, according to the Kidney Registry.   

Thompson helps those in need tell their own stories, but also those of donors who have selflessly volunteered their kidneys to help another person.  

Thompson’s own donor, Kerri Tanner, is a healthcare professional who had always been driven to help people. She didn’t know anyone who needed a kidney, so she registered with the National Kidney Registry online. Soon after, she was matched with Thompson, which set off a donor chain that helped two others receive kidney transplants.  

Leesa Thompson

A chain occurs when a willing donor who is not a match for the person to which they choose to donate, agrees to donate to someone else once their recipient finds a match elsewhere.  

“I wake up every day knowing I made a difference in someone’s life and that is the best feeling in the world,” Tanner says.    

The procedure has not stopped Tanner from living an active life of skiing, running and even figure-skating, a long-time passion of hers.  

“There are so many amazing donors who have gone on to do incredible things,” Thompson says. “And they help show that donors are able to live active and incredible lives after giving this gift to someone. But there is still a great need for donors.” 

 An estimated 12 people die each day while waiting for a transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Over 35.5 million Americans have chronic kidney disease and 90 percent do not know it, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  

Thompson emphasizes the statistics through her work, with kidney disease education one of her top goals. It could help someone avoid the need for a transplant. 

“Over 600,000 Americans are on dialysis and many don’t know they have another option,” says Thompson. “Hypertension and diabetes are the two biggest causes of chronic kidney failure. So, if you ignore your doctor’s advice, your kidney function can decrease and lead to larger problems.” She helps people understand how to watch their levels and when they might want to start looking for a kidney.   

“Leesa has a great passion to help others achieve their goals,” says Cossette. “And she is so giving of her time. Even in the midst of her own struggles, she wants to give back because of the gift she received.”  

Giving back is nothing new to Thompson after a lifetime of coaching children as a speech pathologist in the Peekskill and Cortlandt communities. Her retirement was forced by her need for the transplant in 2018, a few months after she learned she had chronic kidney failure.  

Between coaching and running her specialty Toastmasters club, Thompson also enjoys international cruises, taking full advantage of her new lease on life. Eternally grateful and devoted to all the future kidney recipients, she spreads her message across the world while traveling.  

The message Thompson wants you to remember…  

“You don’t have to be amazing to give a kidney, but you can become amazing through becoming a donor. And you can continue living life to the fullest in spite of [donating an organ] to save someone’s life.” 

Leesa Thompson’s website is   

Liz Giegerich is a freelance writer and marketing professional with a passion for local news. She is a Yorktown native who resides in Ossining with her husband.  


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