The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 3, 2012

Final gift: After fatal accident, transplant candidate becomes donor

— Everything was in place.

Thanks to a swap program, Cynthia (Sponsky) Hale of Ebensburg would be receiving a new kidney in just four weeks.

A woman in Wisconsin, a friend of her aunt, would travel to Johns Hopkins Transplant Center in Maryland to donate a kidney to a man who desperately needed it. And Hale was scheduled to get a kidney from “a perfect match” during the Sept. 11 surgeries, her mother, Carole Sponsky, said.

But on Aug. 14, Hale slipped getting into the bathtub and hit her head. She showed no sign of injury and, two days later, was able to celebrate her 15th wedding anniversary with her husband, Curt, in Pittsburgh. But on the morning of the 17th she collapsed at home and was rushed to the hospital. It was her 47th birthday.

She died Aug. 19, not of kidney disease, but from the subdural hematoma she suffered in the fall.

The organ donation journey did not stop with her death, however.

“They were able to give her liver to a man in Pittsburgh and that man is doing well,” her mother said. “He is a part of my daughter now.”

Hale’s corneas and heart valves were transplanted and her lungs were donated to cancer research.

And the willing donor in Wisconsin, Janet Sterken, has decided to go ahead with her part of the surgery on Sept. 11.

“It was never a consideration not to donate,” Sterken said. 

“Once I said yes it was no longer my kidney.

“There was a conversation about postponing it, but Cindy died waiting and I don’t want someone else to go through that.”

The gift from a stranger astounds Sponsky.

“She did not know Cindy. Had never seen Cindy,” she said.

The family had been looking forward to meeting Sterken at the hospital. Instead, she made the trip from Wisconsin to be with them following Hale’s death.

“She was here for the funeral and everything,” Sponsky said. “She was a comfort to us.”

Sterken said she felt connected to Cindy and her family.

“We have a saying, ‘We are bound to those we pray for.’ And I have been praying for Cindy and her family for a long time,” Sterken said.

Hale’s kidney problems had surfaced in 1999, and in 2001 she received a kidney from her uncle.

But there were problems and she lost the kidney on the second day.

So Hale had dialysis three times a week until 2003, when she received a kidney through Johns Hopkins’ swap program.

“A cousin through marriage was willing to give a kidney, but she didn’t match Cindy,” her mother explained. “So, at Johns Hopkins, there was a young man who needed a kidney. Cindy’s donor matched that young man and that young man’s mother matched Cindy.

“Things went pretty well for Cindy for a long time and then she developed a condition that occurs in people about eight years after a transplant. It caused Cindy’s kidney to start shutting down.

“It only happens in 20 percent of the people,” Sponsky said.

So Hale went back on dialysis and was back in the swap program.

Sponsky said that no matter what she was going through, her daughter wasn’t one to complain.

“She always had a smile no matter what problems she was facing. She had the courage to face it every day,” Sponsky said. 

“I sometimes wondered how she did it.”

The heartbroken mother said Hale was a loving and friendly person.

“Everyone was her friend,” she said.

In addition to her mother and husband, Cynthia Hale left behind her father, Chuck Sponsky; brother, Craig and wife Krista Sponsky; stepdaughter, Cassandra Hale; a nephew and niece and numerous other family members.

Her family hopes the loss of their loved one will help others think about becoming an organ donor.

“Cindy knew how much organ donation meant and she wanted to be an organ donor,” her mother said. “It’s really the gift of life.

“She wanted everyone to be aware.”


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