It's a Miracle Their Kidneys Matched
Shannon Robinson and Travis Chagolla
Some people give hearts as Valentine gifts, but two days after the holiday this year, Shannon Robinson is giving a total stranger, Travis Chagolla, her kidney. The little town of Myers Flat in southern Humboldt County is the scene of a very large act of Random Kindness. Shannon, who lives in the hills not far from there, was visiting with friends in the only cafe in town when she was told of Travis’ illness. He’s adopted, her friends said, and he only has one kidney. It’s shutting down and his parents aren’t eligible to donate. Because it was a small town, she had seen him before a few times but never met him. But as soon as she heard his story, she offered to help.
“After seeing my ex on dialysis, I did not want that to happen to this kid,” Shannon’s heart went out to the 15 year old and his family. “I knew that if I couldn’t do it for my kid, I’d want someone to do it for me.” Shannon’s firsthand experience made her aware of the issues Travis faced. “…Dialysis makes you really tired. Your legs swell. My ex would get nauseous a lot. Toxicity builds up.”
She knew it was a long shot. Donors need to match more than just blood types. “To be honest,” she said, “I offered but didn’t really know it would happen.” She told her friends that she would do it though and when she met Travis a week later she spoke to him. She recalls he was a little standoffish at first. Shannon laughs a little remembering, “He looked at me like, “Who is this lady? .”
Sally Chagolla, Travis’ mother, wasn’t too sure about Shannon either. “I didn’t know who she was, this random person.” When Travis told her about Shannon’s offer, Sally worried that Shannon was a crazy lady. He tried to reassure her. “She drives a car. She has kids in school.” But it wasn’t till they met, that Sally realized that her son really had a chance to escape dialysis and to live more normally.
According to Sally, Travis was born with one kidney “the size of a peanut.” The other soon developed problems. At age five, he had surgery that repaired the connection. But now, as is often the case when children hit puberty, the remaining kidney is under a lot of strain. Sally worried, “It doesn’t do the job it is supposed to do.” Soon, he was going to have to start dialysis. That would mean a drive to Eureka three times per week for a three hour procedure. “The doctor didn’t want to put him through that because he was so healthy otherwise. ” Neither she nor Travis’ dad were eligible to donate. Travis was entered in the National Kidney Registry in hopes that he would move up the list and be spared as much dialysis as possible.
Then Shannon made her offer and she wasn’t interested in money. “She told me, she wanted to save his life,” Sally says and chokes up. She finds Shannon’s gift, a miracle and Shannon, a hero. With tears choking her, she explains that Shannon wants to “pay it forward. She’s trying to give her children a role model….We hear such bad things about the world. But its like the same as the slide [which blocked Highway 101.] The community comes together. The town, the people, the kids at South Fork High School, they are all trying to help. I grew up in Southern California. I don’t know if anyone would have done this for us down there….For someone who is a stranger to say they will save my son’s life….” She trails off crying while Travis in a typical teenage boy fashion makes disgusted noises.
“This is girl shit,” he tells his mother embarrassed.
She laughs, “If he didn’t get a new kidney, he’d have to get dialysis or he’d die.” She asks Travis, “Is that straight forward enough for you?”
Shannon agrees with Sally about the community, though. She came here 17 years ago to go to Reggae on the River. She had to stay at French’s Camp on the river bar for a month before she could find housing. “I wasn’t looking for a small town when I moved here but when I met the people…I said, this is my tribe… .” She loves how people help each other. “We have the greatest county for that. We’re very special here.”
Soon doctors at the University of California at San Francisco’s medical center did tests. Sally explained with wonder that Shannon said if she didn’t match with Travis, “She would be happy to give a kidney to someone else, if [the doctors] would give him a kidney from someone else.”
After a battery of tests, Shannon’s kidney matched. “It was a miracle they matched,” Shannon explains. Even relatives only have a 1 in 4 chance of matching. Sally Chagolla has a good job working for the Humboldt Co. Office of Education. Her insurance covers Shannon’s medical expenses. But, it doesn’t cover Shannon’s expenses to drive to San Francisco multiple times for tests. And it doesn’t cover her expenses like rent while she is recovering.
Shannon swallows uncomfortably as she speaks, “I didn’t expect to ask for help but I’ve been back and forth to the Bay Area. I’ve been paying for it all myself. It’s kind of tapping me.” She’s going to be off work as a part time electrician and her one night a week working at the saloon in Myers Flat will have to stop. She’s going to have 4 incisions in her back and one in front. The operation will take several hours and she will have to rest for 4-8 weeks afterward. She has a young daughter at home. She won’t be able to work. How will she pay the rent?
Shannon’s friends have convinced her to let them hold a fundraiser to help. On February 4th, they’re throwing a benefit at Beginnings in Briceland. There is going to be a spaghetti feed, beer and wine, a raffle and music.
She is mostly worried about paying her rent. “That’s the main thing,” she says. Sally says that she doesn’t want Shannon “to feel financially burdened….If she needs her rent paid, I’ll take out a loan. No matter how long it takes to pay it back.” But that is where the community has stepped in. They want to help both Travis and Shannon. Travis mentions quietly but proudly from the background that the high school band has offered to play at the benefit. His mother talks about another teen putting together a Public Service Announcement for KMUD. A whole group of people are stepping up to help. They’re paying it forward, too.
Eventually, Sally, poking fun at Travis, says she wants to talk “some girl shit.” As she speaks, the tears start flowing and, by the end, nearly choke her.
“There are no words to express …to say what I feel for Shannon….I used to cry all the time. I don’t want to lose this son.” She fumbles trying to find words to express herself. “He’s so good with computers….” She stops and then whispers in a voice thick with emotion, “I think he’s well worth all this.”
Raffle tickets can be purchased at the Myers Flat store and cafe as well as Signature Coffee in Redway.
Photo by unknown friend.