Health

Why did this Plano mom donate her kidney to a total stranger?

Tori Asicato kidney donation love compassion giving local kidney donation
Tori Asiatico

Tori Asiatico and Tonda Bone are total strangers with one point of connection: Tori is donating a kidney. Tonda needs one.

They waited. And waited. And waited some more. With their faces pressed against the windows of their elementary school, then-five-year-old Tori Asiatico and her younger brother, Chase, wondered why every student had been picked up from school except for them. Minutes flew. Then hours passed. The school kept trying to reach their mother, again and again, without success. Afternoon turned to evening and evening turned into night. Finally, a police officer was dispatched to the school. He put the distraught siblings in the back of his squad car and drove them to the nearest Child Protective Services (CPS) office.

“Does your mother smoke funny looking cigarettes?” he asked. “Does she leave you at home by yourself?” Yes. She did. To Tori and Chase, that was normal. Without their father in the picture, their mom often left them at home alone for hours, sometimes days, at a time. They would be hungry and scared, and they were used to crying for her. But Tori didn’t know how wrong it was until her mother dropped her off at school one day and never came back. She didn’t understand abandonment until she was strapped into the backseat of a police car, peering through barred windows with tear-stained cheeks.

Tori’s mother was a methamphetamine addict. She had been coming down from a weeklong high when she didn’t pick her children up from school that day, and slept through the school’s frantic calls. By the time she woke up, both of her children had been placed into the foster care system. She would never regain custody, and Tori’s life was forever changed. She spent the rest of her childhood bouncing around between family members, foster homes, shelters and friends.

By the time Tori was 14, she was dating an older boy at her high school. The freshman and senior weren’t together long before Tori got pregnant, and they moved together to North Carolina where his family was from. But life didn’t get any easier. After the birth of their son, Bradley, Tori’s boyfriend became physically abusive and controlled every aspect of her life, including her finances. She knew she had to get herself and her son out, so she started secretly putting back portions of the tips she made waiting tables at a local restaurant. One day, when she had enough money for two one-way plane tickets back to Dallas, Tori called the police and told them about the abuse. Police officers met her at the apartment she shared with her boyfriend and waited with her while she packed her things. She scooped Bradley up, headed to the airport and never looked back.

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Lost. Confused. Numb. Tori couldn’t make sense of the hand she’d been dealt. She had survived a drug-infested home, neglect, abandonment, the instability of foster care, and abuse seemed to follow wherever she went.

Back in Dallas, she was alone, a teenager caring for a baby all by herself, living in shelters for women and children, like City House in Plano. Foster care can be a hopeless place for teenagers, simply because not many people want to adopt them. They’re too old, too exposed to hardship and too unpredictable. They often age out of the system without any guidance and no clue where to go next.

It wasn’t until Tori’s foster care lawyer told her friends about Tori at a dinner party one night that things began to shift. A husband and wife, lawyers themselves, said that they had always wanted to adopt but it had never felt like the right time. After meeting Tori, Brooke and Benny Asiatico adopted her. She was 16 years old—just two years from aging out of the system. The Asiaticos gave her a new life; she had a permanent roof over her head, she never worried about not being able to feed herself and her son, and there were people in the world who loved her unconditionally—a feeling she had never known before.

“It was all God,” Tori says, looking back years later. “My [adoptive] mom and I both have blonde hair and blue eyes and we look exactly alike. And we both have the same birthmark on the back of our legs. It’s so weird. It has to be God.“

Today, Tori is pursuing a degree in nursing at Collin College and is a single mother of two—she has an almost one-year-old baby girl named Ellabelle and Bradley is now five years old. When she’s not in classes, Tori works as a nanny; she loves caring for children, perhaps because she was never really cared for herself. Her greatest passion, however, is helping others. Motivated by her strong Christian faith, Tori enjoys spending her time feeding the homeless in downtown Dallas on Saturday nights and advocating for foster children. She loves to love people.

A few months ago, the father of one of Tori’s friends needed a kidney, so Tori went to get tested to see if she was a match. She wasn’t, but she was cleared to be a donor. For most people, that would be the end of it. But Tori decided she wanted to proceed with a donation and give her kidney to a complete stranger. Her only request was that the recipient be local. She felt God telling her that there was someone close by who needed her help.

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About an hour across town in Weatherford, Tonda Bone had been struggling with systemic lupus, an autoimmune disease that caused her immune system to attack healthy tissues and cells. It had been an uphill battle since she was diagnosed at just 19 years old. She’d been at the doctor for a routine check-up shortly after graduating from high school when they noticed that her blood pressure was astronomically high and sent her to a specialist for further examination. Following the lupus diagnosis, Tonda was treated with Cytoxin through an IV, a form of chemotherapy. As sick as the treatments made her while, they actually worked well in taming her lupus symptoms. She was able to stop the Cytoxin treatments after about two years, and she spent the 21st year of her life growing her hair back.

While many organs can be affected by lupus, Tonda’s kidneys took the hardest hit, and it caused permanent damage. She and her doctors were watching her kidney function steadily decline. For years she didn’t experience any symptoms of the organ failure. Then, in December 2013, while she was finishing her Ph.D, her kidney function dropped to 19 percent and she began to feel the effects.

Tonda had always wanted to be a college professor. She dreamed about teaching information science, particularly relating to how people share and assimilate information. She was never able to teach full-time or in-person before her kidney function fell to 12 percent and she was forced to start dialysis in 2015. Since then, Tonda has been a part-time online adjunct professor. She hasn’t had a lupus flare in years, but kidney failure could take her life.

The first part of Tonda’s life was spent in school, and the rest has been spent on dialysis. She’s rarely had the luxury of enjoying a hobby, but she’s always loved being outside—hiking, working in her yard and photographing nature. She also enjoys volunteering for a local animal shelter where she walked dogs several times a week and played with cats looking for a home before the symptoms of dialysis took that from her as well. She now helps maintain the shelter’s online photo albums.

It took almost two years for Tonda to get on the kidney transplant list; there’s a pretty extensive vetting period where doctors assess blood type and antibody matching, how much time a patient has been in kidney failure, if dialysis is working well, and more. Because Tonda has Type O blood (the most common), her position on the transplant list was low. Since no family members were a match for Tonda, she and her brother, Randy, entered the paired donor program. This program essentially acts as a trade—Randy donates his kidney to a stranger, and a stranger donates their kidney to his sister.

Kidney failure has consumed Tonda’s life. She does hemodialysis at home four days a week for four hours each time. Most of the time, she is weak and sick. She has been able to teach a couple of online classes through The University of North Texas, which helps keep her mind busy while she’s sitting in her dialysis chair with a needle in her arm. She has been patiently waiting on the kidney transplant list for more than a year. She was matched with a donor last summer, but that transplant fell through when the donor backed out.

“It’s horrifying,” Tonda admits. “There are good days, but there are a lot of days when I just can’t even believe what I’m going through.”

In November 2018, Tonda learned that she would be receiving a kidney through an altruistic donor on January 16, 2019. She posted the exciting news on her Facebook page called Tonda Needs a Kidney, asking for prayers that the donation goes through and that everyone heals well. Around that same time, Tori Asiatico learned that she had been matched as a donor to someone in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who needed a kidney. Her operation was set for January 16, 2019.

Tori and Tonda were both told very little about each other due to HIPAA rules, and were advised that they wouldn’t have access to the other’s information until later in the process. But Tori was curious. She went on Facebook and started searching through kidney transplant forums and pages. When she came across Tonda’s post, she realized the date and location of Tonda’s transplant operation were a perfect match to hers.

“Hi Tonda. Are you receiving a kidney at the Fort Worth Transplant Institute? I know this sounds crazy, but I am donating the same day to someone anonymously,” Tori commented on Tonda’s post.

The two kept talking and confirmed that Tori was indeed the anonymous donor scheduled to give Tonda a kidney on January 16. They decided to meet and get to know each other so they could stay in touch and provide support throughout the entire process—a rare opportunity for donors and those who receive their organs. One day in early December, Tonda strapped on her favorite hot pink combat boots and met Tori for lunch at Chili’s. They embraced and shed a few tears. They were both lost for words.

“I was hoping we would get to meet before the operation so that my family could pray over both of us before we went into surgery,” Tori said.

Likewise, before Tori tracked her down, Tonda had planned to write her donor a letter to tell them about herself, her journey and how she got to where she is today. Most importantly, she wanted to express her gratitude for their selfless act. When Tonda began dialysis, she was told that the average life expectancy for those on that treatment was five years. Tonda has been on it for almost four.

“How do you thank somebody enough when they are doing something like that?” Tonda asks. “It’s just amazing.”

A kidney from a living donor, as opposed to a deceased one, adds about 10 years onto the life of the organ. With Tori’s kidney, Tonda’s life expectancy will increase significantly; dialysis just prolongs kidney failure and while it had bought her more time, a new organ will give her a new beginning.

Tori and Tonda have a lot in common; both are motivated to help others. Tonda wants to be a source of support for others who are going through similar struggles with their health, and as soon as she has healed from her transplant, will start looking for ways to do that. She expects to continue teaching, but she hopes Tori’s kidney will give her endless possibilities.

“You have to make a conscious decision every single day that you are going to be positive and upbeat and look forward to a brighter future,” she says.

Tori plans to switch her college major to business and wants to start a career in motivational speaking. She’s already written what she hopes will be her first speech and is looking for opportunities to share it with others. She says that God has turned all the bad in her life into fuel for helping others in any way she can. She believes he had a plan for her all along.

“Maybe that’s why God gives us two kidneys,” Tori says. “There are so many people dying because they need one, and everyone else is walking around with two.”

Originally published in Local Profile’s February 2019 issue.

Chandler Hodo
Chandler has been captivated by the beauty of the written word since she was a child. She is a lifelong Dallas-Fort Worth resident with a love for storytelling that exceeds any passion she has ever known. Chandler has a bachelor’s degree in communication and journalism from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism.

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