Leslie Woodard’s childhood was full of adventure, fun and family. Born to a military father, she had the opportunity to travel the world, even living in Germany. She was an active gymnast who loved spending evenings around board games with her family. Life changed, however, when Leslie was 15. After noticing swelling in her legs, her grandmother, a nurse, made a doctor’s appointment for her. Here, she learned that her kidneys were losing function. She was told that she would need a transplant within the next several years.
Leslie continued to live a healthy life, always conscious of her diet and staying active, while undergoing years of dialysis. Finally, in her 30’s, a miracle happened. Her father, at the time an orthodontist, had formed a very close relationship to his assistant, Kim. Kim loved Dr. Woodard, even thinking of him as a second father, but had never gotten to know Leslie. That’s why when she came to the Woodards offering her kidney, the family was nothing short of shocked. Kim told Dr. Woodard and Leslie that God had come to her in a dream and told her to donate her kidney. Her faith was unwavering, and if she was nervous, she didn’t show it. From there, the process went swiftly and easily. Leslie received a transplant at the University of Pittsburg, and the surgery was a success for both parties.
“I was given a new life and a new spirit,” said Leslie. “Organ, eye and tissue donation changes lives in ways you could never imagine.”
But Leslie’s story doesn’t end there. After making a move to Birmingham, Alabama, Leslie continued to see job listings for a position working within the donation community. In 2014, she took the plunge and joined the team. Today, she works with Alabama Donor Services as a referral coordinator, screening organ, eye and tissue donation candidates and speaking with donor families. The Alabama Organ Center and the Alabama Eye Bank work hand in hand to give hope in a dark moment.
Her job isn’t always easy – she is tasked with approaching families only 30-45 minutes after the loss of their loved one. She then either asks them to give the gift of organ, eye and tissue donation or inform them about their loved one’s wishes. It’s a raw, emotional time that has an enormous impact on both the families and donor community. While some might consider the job draining, it gives Leslie hope and faith.
“When the families hear me out, just consider the option of donation, I know that they are kind, incredible people even in the height of their pain,” said Leslie. “And when they say yes, what I always know is that this person is an awesome, selfless person. It motivates me and feeds me.”
Leslie calls this conversation the first step in a “chain of kindness.” The gift of eye donation lights a spark in the hearts of the donor family, the recipient and the recipient’s family. When an eye recipient receives the new gift of sight, they are motivated to do good and make change. Coming out of blindness with the gift of a selfless donor creates a spark that spreads through communities, connecting people and inspiring more donation, more hope and more change.
Leslie is proud to be part of the donation community as a recipient and as a referral coordinator. She ends every day knowing that there is selflessness and kindness in the world. She has a renewed faith that people are good. It all started for Leslie with a kidney donation, but her chain of kindness isn’t over yet.