My Kidney Donation Story: Cornelius Bornman
On October 7, 2021, my wife and I took our 10-year-old daughter, Jaelle, to the ER because of rapid shallow breathing and a racing pulse.
This was the first indication we had that something was wrong. She was diagnosed with kidney and heart failure with a BP of 250/150 and was transported to Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI.
Throughout the night and into the next day, we discovered that her kidneys had never fully developed: they measured 6.7 cm when they should have been 10–12 cm. She was sedated, intubated, and put on a ventilator to take the load of her lungs off her heart so that her heart could recover. Hemodialysis was started immediately on the first day of what would be 10 days in the hospital.
Seeing her lying there for two days, sedated, with so many tubes running into her body, was something that no parent ever wants to see. The first morning in ICU, we looked out her window to the sight of a rainbow! This reminded my wife and me of Noah in the Bible and how God put the rainbow in the sky after the flood. I felt peace immediately and knew everything was going to be OK.
Mid-October was the start of three trips per week to the children’s hospital for dialysis and the search for a kidney. Jaelle did homework during dialysis to keep up with school. The hospital staff was amazing and supportive. The child life team helped with school, led games and activities that she could do while hooked up, and even gave her ukulele lessons.
Some dialysis days were very hard. She was always tired and slept on the hour-long drive home. We had more than 10 people extend serious offers to get tested to see if they were a match for donation. I started the process myself as soon as they would let me.
We had amazing support from our community and friends during this time. One of her teachers at school organized a T-shirt fundraiser, gave us the proceeds, and had all the kids wear their shirts on Wednesdays. I still run into people around town wearing their shirts. Some friends came and picked up sticks and raked leaves in our yard. Another friend came and put down floor trim as we had just gotten new flooring installed when this happened. People from all over sent cards and words of encouragement.
One morning, we were all on the way to dialysis and I blurted out, “I’m going to be the donor!” I had just remembered a dream from March 2021, before we knew anything was wrong. In my dream, I fell out of the loading dock of a factory onto my back and heard the phrase, “It’s a match.” At the time, I thought, “What a strange dream—that doesn’t make any sense.” I believe God gave me that dream ahead of time to give me confidence for the journey ahead.
I was the only one tested, and after my daughter had been on dialysis for five months, I was able to donate my left kidney to her on March 15, 2022. The procedure was immediately successful: I was home on the second day and Jaelle came home on the fourth day.
I took three weeks off work and four weeks off CrossFit training before resuming. The healing process was very quick for both of us. Jaelle has played one season of basketball and is currently playing volleyball. She has grown over six inches since the surgery.
Now, a year and a half after the donation, I placed third in the Donor Games 2023 Championship. Participating in the Donor Games has given me many opportunities to share my story and encourage others to donate, because we all have a spare to share.
I do not view my donation as a sacrifice at all. Donating a kidney to my youngest daughter has been a blessing and a privilege that has been empowering and brought out the best in myself and my family.
About the Author
Cornelius Bornman lives in the small town of Vestaburg, MI, with his wife Cherri, and their three daughters Abigail, Rebecca, and Jaelle. Cornelius works as a Chief Operator for Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative at a small peaking powerplant near his home. He started learning CrossFit to get in better shape for the surgery and fell in love with exercising. He now averages 4-5 days per week in the gym. He also loves reading, juggling, hunting, and fishing. Cornelius serves on the board of a local chapter for Youth For Christ, an organization that exists to meet and build Christ sharing relationships with teens through after school programs.