A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Tim Hanner dialing back a long, distinguished career in education for his ‘What’s Next?’ and new kidney


By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Tim Hanner spent his career as an educator urging students to focus on “What’s Next?” because some new, unknown opportunity is always just ahead.

Tim Hanner and grandson Charlie

In his own fulsome experience in teaching and sharing with others, Hanner was a classroom teacher, a principal, an associate commissioner of education for Kentucky, a superintendent, a national consultant, an innovator and, most recently, founder of NaviGo, a nonprofit offering college and career services for students who really need help imagining “What’s Next?” possibilities.

The kid who grew up in Russell made his way to Eastern Kentucky University and ultimately to Northern Kentucky schools where he has made a major impact. For the last 13 years or so, while he seemed to be just a regular smart guy doing amazing things, he was powering through a tumultuous health journey as well, earning a special notch in that Superhero belt.

Now that he has seen NaviGo perfectly placed with Children Inc., assuring its long-term sustainability, Tim Hanner is pursuing his own “What’s Next?”

Hanner’s choices seem daunting – but that’s not how he sees them.

Tim Hanner and wife Marlene

“I refuse to let my health challenges define me,” he says. “Every day is a gift that I encourage everyone to live to the fullest.”

Tim Hanner has survived a rare kidney disease, tuberculosis, dialysis treatments and a kidney transplant.

His new “What’s Next?” is that the kidney he received from his older sister Rebecca White in 2013 is failing – and he is facing an urgent need for another one.

Apparently, the rare disease diagnosis which dictated his treatment over the last few years has turned out to be a misdiagnosis due to not showing up on several biopsies. A biopsy in March showed the presence of a new disease that experts at Mayo Clinic and Christ Hospital have told him can be treated with steroids to help prolong the life of the new kidney after the upcoming transplant. The apparent cause of the anomaly may have been an untreated strep infection, which Hanner now believes happened when he was an elementary school principal.

The bright spot for Hanner – who always finds the bright spots – is that his disease is not hereditary. His relief is deep for his son and daughter and three precious grandchildren.

Another bright spot is that his medical team may have the solution for protecting a new kidney from contracting the disease.

Tim Hanner and granddaughter Aberdeen

So Hanner’s outlook has moved from grim to a lot-less-grim, bordering on hopeful, as he moves to his “What’s Next?” He has “retired” to focus on his health – but mostly to focus on his family and those he loves.

“The decision to slow down at this time was fueled by wanting to spend more quality time with my wife, Marlene,” Hanner said. “This illness has been very difficult for her but her positive approach and spirit have kept me going. She is the most positive person I know!”

His family and friends have rallied around in a big way.

Many have stepped up, insisting to be tested for compatibility as donors. Even his young grandson wanted to be considered – and that’s when Hanner drew the line – and the family drew another one. Back off, they said in chorus, and we’ll take care of the donor issue while you focus on being as healthy as possible.

“My dad has been in control of every aspect of his professional life and to see him have to cut short an amazing career due to health concerns not just once but twice is really hard to witness,” said his daughter Christina Perkins, who works at Thomas More University. “I know that even though he has accomplished so much, there is still so much he would like to and could do.
 
“Having said that, I feel it is time for him to focus the energy he puts into his career, back into himself. He received a renewed sense of life with the gift he received from his first donation that afforded him the opportunity to keep going and to continue to make a difference for so many in the community and state he loves. With this transplant, I know he will get the same opportunity but that the energy will be refocused on to what is truly the most important, his family.”

Perkins is joining with other family members, particularly two aunts and an uncle, who are ready to gear up now that Hanner’s course is clearer. He had a recent day-long visit with doctors at Christ Hospital and is completing tests this week, getting him ready for a transplant.

Tim Hanner and grandson Jake

Older brother John Hanner, a VP of Aramark Corporation, was set to be the original donor but had a flare-up with hypertension weeks prior to the scheduled first transplant and had to be eliminated. He was woefully disappointed then and is deeply involved now, along with his sisters.

Hanner’s sisters are both lawyers (following in their dad’s footsteps), having graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Both had distinguished law careers. Jane Allen, the youngest sibling, last practiced employment law and commercial litigation with a Nashville law firm and also founded Counsel on Call, a fast-growing legal services company with offices across the country. Oldest sister Rebecca White also practiced labor and employment law, including with Dinsmore & Shohl in Cincinnati, and later distinguished herself as an academician and scholar. She retired in 2016 after serving for 12 years as the only woman dean ever of the University of Georgia School of Law. In “retirement,” the sisters partnered to found Hanner Clarke, a high-end handbag company – wanting a slower-paced life focused on “spending time being present in the lives of those you love.”

These Hanners clearly understand the deeper meaning of “What’s Next?” And they are clearly dedicated to doing all they can to help their brother.

Rebecca was the donor of Tim’s kidney in 2013. She wants everybody to understand that being a donor is an amazing, rewarding – and “easy” – experience.

“I am so happy that I was able to make possible the impact Tim has had over the last six years,” she said. “I have such a sense of gratefulness and immeasurable joy that I was able to be part of it.”

The folks at Christ Hospital were terrific, she says, helping her understand the process every step of the way.

“Don’t assume you can’t be a donor,” she said. “ I urge everyone to consider it.”

The Hanner sisters: Jane Allen and Rebecca White

She’s not a candidate this time, of course, but she is joining the effort to help find the perfect match.

“We’ve always been close,” Jane said of the Hanner siblings, despite the geographic distances. Rebecca is in Georgia, John in Florida, Tim in Kentucky and Jane in Tennessee. “Thanks primarily to our mom, we are always there for each other. I have always known that no matter what, my siblings would be there. . .”

Once Tim’s testing is complete, the family is ready to take action to encourage testing – hoping to find the best possible match with the least possible chance for rejection.

Jessica Ratcliff, the Donor Transplant Coordinator at Christ, will conduct phone screenings to determine eligibility and can provide details about donations. She can be reached at 513 585 1427.

The “What’s Next” Hanners are aiming for the best possible outcome and, more importantly, they are expecting it.

Judy Clabes is editor of the NKyTribune. Contact her at judy@nkytrib.com.


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