A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Tim Hanner finds his perfect match (for a kidney); she is former student Alyssa Vanderpool


By Judy Clabes
KyForward publisher

Retired educator Tim Hanner just got two big doses of good news – first, he found the perfect match for his new life-saving kidney, and second, he got the very best affirmation for how he has lived a life worth saving.

Alyssa Vanderpool was a student of Hanner’s when he taught middle school at Woodland Middle School in Northern Kentucky.

“I adored him,” she said. “He was that one teacher that made you feel that you mattered. It wasn’t lip-service

Tim Hanner with granddaughter Aberdeen

“You have to know Mr. Hanner to understand. I am proof and validation that he had an impact on so many lives. He was the first teacher to tell me I was going somewhere.

“So I did.”

In a distinguished career in education, Hanner was a classroom teacher, a principal, an associate commissioner of education for Kentucky, a superintendent, a national consultant, an innovator and founder of NaviGo, a nonprofit offering college and career services for students. Because of declining health, he retired from NaviGo to spend more time with his family — and to wait for a new kidney as he powered through his tumultuous health journey.

Vanderpool is now a teacher too, with 20 years of experience behind her – a path she attributes to Hanner. She teaches music at Johnson Elementary School in Fort Thomas and previously taught at Beechwood, both in Northern Kentucky. She lives in Fort Mitchell. She is a mom of three children, 23, 18 and 15. She is musically multi-talented and appears in local performances in her spare time, most recently at the Aronoff.

And on April 7, she will join Hanner at Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital where she will donate a kidney that will prolong his life.

Hanner is currently on dialysis, his remaining kidney functioning in single-digit percentages. He lost function in the kidney transplant he received previously from his sister, and his health has gotten progressively worse over the last few months.

Those were months spent waiting for the perfect match. There was no dearth of possibilities. But the process evolves in stages and all were eliminated – for one reason or another – until Alyssa Vanderpool.

She first called Hanner when she found out she was a match. He was cautious, she said, because of so many disappointments – and knowing that the last hurdle yet had to be crossed. But Vanderpool was not just optimistic – she was determined. “I knew it was going to be me,” she said.

When she got word that she could be the donor, she called Hanner again: “Mr. Hanner,” she said. “I’m going to give you my kidney and I’m going to save your life.”

Alyssa Vanderpool, bringing the house down at Singables and Swingables, an evening of Jazz at the Aronoff in Cincinnati.

Vanderpool says now, as the surgery approaches, that she wishes she had a “million kidneys so I could give one to a million people.”

“It’s like – you need a pair of shoes? Here’s a pair for you,” she said. “Or, let me hold that door for you. . .”

You do what you need to do for other people, she says. Simple as that.

And that’s exactly how she feels about giving up one of her kidneys.

“There’s nothing to it,” she says. “It’s laparoscopic surgery on my part. I’ll be up and walking right away. No heavy lifting or driving for two weeks. I’ll be off school for six weeks – but only because my school insists.

“I’m so comfortable with the whole process.”

The school system “has been phenomenal,” she says, “and I appreciate all the love and support of my family and friends.”

She has made this decision – and she couldn’t be happier to be sharing her kidney with a man who gave her hope for the future when she was a middle-schooler.

Hanner is ready too – and grateful, though that is an inadequate word under the circumstances.

“Alyssa has a huge heart,” he says, “and has been that way as long as I’ve known her. I hope her story will inspire others to become organ donors. They do save lives.”

See the NKyTribune’s story about Tim Hanner here.


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