FHN Graduate JT Thomas Received a Kidney from Class Mate Niki Borgeson

Published: February 19, 2020

JT Thomas was like any other FHN student. He sat in Jani Wilken’s classroom. He won Mr. FHN his senior year. He graduated from FHN the summer of 2010.

Niki Borgeson was like any other FHN student.

She learned to speak Spanish from Brian Santos. She ran track. She graduated from FHN the summer of 2010.

What set the two apart from the rest of their class is the fact that Borgeson donated one of her kidneys to Thomas in the summer of 2014.

Two years after graduating from FHN, Thomas was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), the scarring of the kidneys. After suffering from cold-like symptoms for around two months, Thomas went to the doctor where he was tested and diagnosed. It was obvious. Thomas needed a kidney. While undergoing dialysis, a substitution for the normal function of the kidney, Thomas, his friends and his family were continuously searching for a kidney donor.

“If I told you the story, you wouldn’t believe me,” Thomas said.

With none of Thomas’ friends and family able to donate one of their kidneys, they were constantly using social media in hopes to find a possible donor. After seeing a Facebook post all the way in Spokane, WA., Borgeson had this feeling that she needed to help give Thomas his life back. After being tested, she found out she was a match. Borgeson could donate one of her kidneys to Thomas.

“I continued to see it on Facebook that he wasn’t getting help,” Borgeson said. “You can’t remove social media from the equation. Without it I would have been totally able to separate myself from the situation. After reading about JT’s illness, I understood he was in pain, he was stuck to a machine. My conscience drove me to do something.”

Thomas and Borgeson’s friend groups overlapped in high school. They saw each other at football games, dances and in the hallways. They may have had a class or two together, but the two weren’t the best of friends. They were acquaintances, school friends. The two hadn’t been in contact for years when Borgeson reached out to Thomas about the transplant, characterizing Borgeson’s selflessness and kindness.

“If I had treated her any differently in high school, I could still be on dialysis,” Thomas said. “I may not be having this conversation right now. It just goes to show how important it is that you are kind to other people.”

Five and a half years post transplant, Borgeson is healthy, happy and married in Spokane, WA. She works as a manager at Enterprise Car Rental. Borgeson encourages anyone she can into organ donation, knowing that the life long outcome is worth the two week recovery time.

“If you’re considering donating an organ, just do it,” Borgeson said. “People say, ‘I don’t know anybody.’ Just look online. You can save someone’s life.”

With health becoming a main priority, it took Thomas nine years, but he recently graduated from the University of Missouri. He works as a patient ambassador for a pharmaceutical company that manufactures immunosuppressants that are necessary to take once you receive a transplant.  Immunosupressants weaken the body’s immune system, so that the human body doesn’t reject a donated organ. Thomas has been able to work on legislation to protect organ donors and recipients that are in need of these drugs. Thomas expresses interest in becoming a lobbyist for those in the transplant community. He would even like to run for office one day.

“I don’t know where I’ll be, but I know what I’ll be doing,” Thomas said. “I see myself helping people. I see myself making a change for the better in people’s lives.”

Each time Thomas hits a big landmark in his life, like a career goal or a big life change, he’ll call Borgeson. He thanks her over and over again, yet he always feels like it is never enough. His experience with his transplant and with Niki has forever changed his view of his impact in other people’s lives and how he treats people.

“Don’t underestimate your presence in another person’s life,” Thomas said. “They say that high school is the best four years of your life, but the best years of your life are ahead of you. It’s the people who you meet now that can impact that. So, treat people nicely. They may end up saving your life.”

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