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Stories of hope

LJ Dong: The Universe has your back (and kidney!)

LJ Dong posing with left arm draped over right knee

My name is LJ, and I may be petite, but my personality and heart are larger than life! Oh, and I am a living kidney donor, too!

When I was younger everyone would always ask what I would want to do when I grew up. My answer was to help people. I always felt I was brought into this world to make a difference. The Universe proved me right in the most unimaginable way!

My story is far from ordinary! It’s one of the rarest you will probably read about. In May of 2013 I married my best friend, Billy. We were young and in love. We thought we had it all figured out: a honeymoon in Europe, a new house, travel, babies, and happily ever after.

Less than one month after our wedding day I fractured my spine, which spiraled into years of surgeries, caused severe health problems and turned our newlywed life upside down. I had three major spine surgeries between 2013-2016 and spent much of that time bed-bound and wheelchair-bound. Intense rehabilitation helped my spine to heal, but drastic weight loss and muscle atrophy caused compression to my major organs. I would have to deal with the consequences of that over the next two years.

In 2017, I was hospitalized with severe stomach pain. The diagnosis was SMA Syndrome – a rare condition where my small intestine was compressed between my aorta and superior mesenteric arteries. I underwent surgery to correct this and had to make strict dietary changes in order to avoid further complications.

In 2018, I was diagnosed with another rare condition called Nutcracker Syndrome. This is when the renal vein is compressed between two major arteries, severely affecting the left kidney requiring more surgery. The initial surgery to correct this failed. The only option now was to have my kidney removed.

I requested to donate it, something that had never been done before. I was the first patient at this hospital to not only cure my own condition but save someone else’s life in the process. I am now happy, healthy and Nutcracker free!

On April 5, 2018 I donated my kidney and effectively changed the course of treatment for the disease. My recipient was a 26-year-old woman who was on the transplant waiting list for seven years. She is now able to travel and experience life to the fullest. I fought to find a silver lining by donating an otherwise healthy kidney that was essentially being crushed in my own body as a result of a string of unfortunate events after my accident. The transplant surgery coincidentally ended up taking place during organ donation month. I took this as a sign that it was all meant to be.

I have been working hard for the past couple years to make this a documented treatment. Although it takes time, I know my commitment has made a difference already. As an advocate and ambassador for organ donation, I mentor and support others living with the same condition or considering living kidney donation.

To date, I have inspired dozens of other “nutcrackers” all over the world to go forward with donation – all of which have been successful! While all these health problems changed my life, it was during this challenging time that my spiritual journey truly began. As I was drawn to exploring my spirituality, I rediscovered gifts that had lain dormant since my childhood, and I became determined to use my connection to Spirit to bring hope and inspiration to others. I began hosting monthly workshops and giving motivational talks; and published two books, “The Spirit of Hope” and “Think Like a Medium, Act Like a Warrior.” I am also a psychic/medium, ordained minister, fitness coach, public speaker and talk show host. ‘Warrior’ is my favorite title and the one that I’ve worked the hardest to earn.

In 2020 I hit my peak! My biggest dream came true. I was blessed to host my very own talk show, The LJ Show, featuring guests who have their own stories of hope and inspiration with a mediumship twist. It helped me and my fans get through the dark days of the pandemic. My guest for the season premiere was my kidney recipient! It was the first time we shared our story publicly together.

I feel I’ve been given a second chance at life. I consider myself a role model and a positive influence on others. I am very engaged in my community and have been blessed with a wide platform and have the opportunity to connect with so many inspiring people. I love speaking at events both locally and out of state to raise awareness.

I recently had to endure further spine surgery and other health challenges but I am grateful to be alive and have the love and support of my family and friends and an extensive support network.

Every year I celebrate transplant day and being nutcracker free. I host a “Celebration of Life” event and each year the audience grows bigger and bigger. This April was our 5-year “kidney-versary” and the celebration event will take place over the summer. It’s an inspirational evening and an opportunity to share my story. The event also includes guest speakers, raffles, treats, and messages I bring through from Spirit to my audience. I am amazed and grateful for all those who attend but others that contribute their services or merchandise.

Donation is considered an act of kindness and this event truly brings out the best in everyone involved. The proceeds that are raised from the event are donated to various charitable organizations related to organ donation, support and/or research. The hope is that more people with Nutcracker syndrome will consider kidney donation after hearing my story.

It has been quite a journey. April 5, 2018, is a day I will never forget even if I tried because it’s tattooed on me! My recipient and I refer to her now kidney as “Lefty”. I am still nutcracker free and know in my heart and kidney that donating was the best decision for me. A piece of me is missing but in all honesty it has made me feel whole. I encourage everyone to follow their heart and be their own best advocate—it can change your life or someone else’s.

If you asked me 10 years ago where I saw myself I would probably not have said here! Yes, it’s had some painful moments but there’s been moments I’ve had the time of my life. I know it’s just the beginning.

My husband and I are about to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary and we have two fur-dogs Chip and Dolce. My health obstacles did not allow me to have children but I was able to give the miracle of life. We can plan our life but sometimes it’s best to let go and trust there’s something bigger and better in store. The Universe knows.

Hand-drawn heart
Kidney, Living donor, Stories, UNOS Ambassador

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