NHL mom reimburses her son’s arena manager with kidney

WINGHAM, ONT. –Bonnie O’Reilly and Graham Nesbitt will be friends forever after the Huron County hockey mom donated her kidney to the arena manager who helped launch her son’s NHL career.

“No words can really express thank you,” says an emotional Nesbitt on a Zoom call with Bonnie, who responds, “Well, I feel it, so it’s good.”

In 2011, Nesbitt, originally from Seaforth, Ont. was diagnosed with a kidney disorder called Berger’s disease. In 2019, it became apparent that the man operating the Seaforth Arena was in need of a kidney transplant.

“We’ve had a number of people come together,” says Nesbitt. “People started testing and for some reason they couldn’t donate, and then my lucky star showed up to Bonnie O’Reilly.”

O’Reilly is the mother of Stanley Cup champion Ryan O’Reilly, who brought the cup back to the Seaforth arena – the one he started in – in 2019.

This is the arena Nesbitt used to open early for Ryan, his brother, and other kids to practice before school.

“He’s one of the many people in my children’s lives who took the time to care about what they wanted and who raised them. So I thought, wow, here’s an opportunity I can repay to let Graham know that I appreciate what he has done for my kid’s life, ”Bonnie says.

Nesbitt, whose father died aged 10, said opening the arena for the O’Reilly family and others was an easy decision – a decision he never would have thought of lead to this shocking result.

“My neighbors and my community helped me raise myself, so I just hoped that someday I could help,” Nesbitt says, moved.

After months of testing, the two were paired on November 20, 2020. COVID-19 has delayed surgery at the London Health Sciences Center transplant unit until March 3, 2021.

Bonnie O’Reilly and Graham Nesbitt raise their thumbs up from their hospital bed in London, Ont. in March 2021.

Everything went well and the two were able to share a special moment after the surgery last Friday.

“We spent some time alone and I felt Graham’s gratitude, and it was wonderful for me,” Bonnie recalls, moved.

His kidney donation went viral shortly after the operation, after it was shared by the St. Louis Blues, team captains Ryan O’Reilly. Advertising, they say, is demeaning and hopefully useful.

“If this plants a few seeds for other people to consider donating for someone they know or don’t know, that’s great for me,” says Bonnie.

“It’s a great way to promote the program. And the transplant team is very happy, ”adds Nesbitt.

Both are recovering at home in Huron County and are all doing well right now, grateful for their selflessness when their families need it most.

Long-time Philadelphia Flyers fan Nesbitt can even change allegiance.

“If I’m being honest with you, I’ll be buying a St. Louis Blues hat ASAP,” Nesbitt joked.

You can find out more about the London Health Sciences Center Multiple Organ Transplant Program here.

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Pia McArthur

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