Mother and daughter both need kidney transplants

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Bobi O’Neill and her daughter, Tanya Christopher, both need kidney transplants.

OKEECHOBEE — When someone you love needs an organ transplant, your entire world tends to revolve around that need. Imagine what it would be like if two people you loved needed an organ at the same time. Friends and family of Bobi O’Neill and her daughter Tanya Christopher know exactly what that feels like, because they both need kidneys.

The O’Neill family moved to Okeechobee from Broward County in 1976. Bobi and Gene O’Neill were happily married for almost 30 years before he passed away in 2008. Mr. O’Neill was a Vietnam veteran, and after his time in the service, he worked as a police officer in Pompano Beach. When the family moved to Okeechobee, he went to work for the Okeechobee Police Department and soon made detective. When he retired from the police department in 1977, Okeechobee County hired him as the emergency management director. He served in that capacity until 2008, when health issues caused him to resign.

Mrs. O’Neill worked for Royal’s Department Store and Royal’s Furniture Store for many years and then worked for Raulerson Hospital and for the Okeechobee County Clerk’s Office. Mrs. O’Neill is also well-known for her volunteer work in Okeechobee, especially with the Pregnancy Center. Even now that she is on dialysis multiple days a week, she continues to serve as a greeter in church and volunteer in the nursing home, among other things. Now it is our turn to serve her, said her friend Hannah Klassen.

In November 2000, Mrs. O’Neill donated one of her kidneys to her daughter, Tanya Christopher, who began having renal issues only three years after her marriage to her husband, Stephen. This transplant took place at Shands Hospital in Gainesville and was a success, but in 2017, that kidney failed, too, and Mrs. Christopher is once again in renal failure and in need of another kidney. Mr. Christopher, whose father is known for starting the Okeechobee County Airport back when it was just a grass runway, has been by his wife’s side every step of the way since this journey began.

Although the donation of the kidney went well and both women recovered and went on to live normal lives for several years, in 2004, Mrs. O’Neill developed a splenic aneurysm, a rare condition in which the diameter of the splenic artery dilates to over 1 centimeter, which resulted in serious health issues. In 2005, Mrs. O’Neill received a five-organ transplant that took place in Pittsburgh. Her surgery was successful as well, and she lived a normal life until 2017 when she, too, began experiencing renal issues. She ended up on dialysis and has been receiving treatment for the past two years.

When Mrs. O’Neill tried to get on a transplant list in Florida, they determined it would be best if she returned to Pennsylvania, where she had her five-transplant surgery, because they were familiar with her case and better equipped to handle it. Mrs. Christopher has begun the process to be listed on the pre-transplant list at Shands Hospital and, meanwhile, she continues to work at her job for the State of Florida every day.

When a kidney becomes available for Mrs. O’Neill, she will receive a call and she and a companion will have 24 hours to get to the hospital in Pittsburgh. Currently, she is on a waiting list with Angel Flight from Okeechobee to Pittsburgh. The cost of that flight is estimated to be between $14,000 and $18,000. If anyone in the area has a jet and would be willing to be on standby to fly them there for the surgery, it would save that amount and be such a blessing, they said.

On March 13, a spaghetti dinner and auction fundraiser will be held at Okeechobee Christian Academy, 701 S. Parrott Avenue. from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. Suggested donation for the dinners is $10. Donations can also be made at PNC Bank to account#1222897188. The name on the account is Anchorpoint Ministries Inc. In the memo please put, “Bobi O’Neill fund.” For more information, visit anchorpointministriesinc.com or call 863-763-7800

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