School community steps in when cancer forces Pike County teacher’s family to step back

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Published: May. 26, 2022 at 8:09 PM EDT
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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - When Johnathan Oney was diagnosed with mild kidney failure in 2016, he never expected the journey that would follow for his family.

In 2017, he and his wife Jessica became foster parents to their daughters and are now nearing the end of the adoption process. However, another hiccup came between late 2019 and June 2020 when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which sent him into surgery and though the cancer was removed, the procedure put him on the transplant list.

“I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t hold my children- play with my children. I couldn’t go on vacation. I couldn’t take a shower,” Johnathan said. “Things that people take for granted every day.”

He and his wife Jessica, who is a Spanish teacher at Shelby Valley High School, began looking at their options, in search for a living donor to give him the kidney he needed to survive. Through it all, and during a pandemic, they held to their faith.

“I have been blessed by God since the very beginning,” said Johnathan. “I had faith to the end, but my physical body was taking a toll on me. Spiritually, mentally. And just as we thought we lost hope in November, right as my doctor told me my dialysis would have to stop and there was nothing else they could do, that’s when people began to get tested.”

A Facebook post brought the couple one step closer to their answer, after three people saw the need and got tested to be living donors.

“So when I got worse that’s exactly when I got the good news,” said Johnathan.

Stephanie Stiltner, the mother of one of Jessica’s students, saw the need and decided to see if she was a match.

“God blessed me with two working kidneys,” she said. “And if I have the capability of allowing somebody to basically live and gain life back and be a father and be a husband and a productive community member- if I had that power, why not?”

Stiltner was one of three people who showed interest in helping, the first to be tested, and the perfect match the Oneys were waiting for.

“That they would give that effort, that pain of having that surgery, that they would give a part of themselves to you- that’s a special kind of love. That’s a love that only comes from God,” Johnathan said.

With the surgery planned for the week of Thanksgiving last year, and things moving quickly, it was another link to the school that would help ease some of the family’s financial burden. Students from the Class of 2022 stepped in to fundraise on behalf of the family.

With only a few weeks to bring in funds and the smallest class of seniors the school has seen in some time, the Wildcats got to work.

“We did not expect this type of love,” Johnathan said. “They’re different kids.”

With a pajama/hat day that allowed students to wear either for a donation to the cause and a collection taken up around the school, the students raised nearly $1,000 to give to the family.

“It was difficult, coming in every day and then knowing, you know, Jonathan was suffering at home. And so they got to really know me on that personal level,” said Jessica.

Seniors Karli Bowling, Trevin Bevins, Olivia Bowling, Jalyn Thacker, and Alayna Collins- all part of the efforts- said it was about giving back to those who have given so much to them.

“I think some of us cried that day. Because we were so excited that, you know, this family that deserves all the good things are getting all the good things,” said Thacker.

“They just really care and they always show their support,” said Olivia. “So we just really need to step up and show support for them.”

The students also changed their class colors to green and white this year, creating a tile with those colors and one simple message: Donate Life.

“Just know they have changed our lives and our outlook on a lot of things,” said Bevins.

The Oneys say it was a blessing of miracles, meeting together in perfect timing, allowing God to give them what they needed through the friends and loved ones who live in the community they call home.

“And to know that there are people out there who actually, truly do care and are doing God’s work- and you know, want to actually help people? That gives me hope in humanity,” said Jessica.

Johnathan said the one kidney he received has met the need and beyond, with doctors saying it is like having two kidneys in one. And his health has improved drastically since the surgery.

Because of the second chance and the love he has received, Johnathan said he was blessed to watch his daughter graduate Kindergarten Thursday. And because of the kidney that was given through kindness, he is able to celebrate life with those he loves.

“With one act of love, she gave me so much back,” said Johnathan. “It’s life. It was my life.”

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