The Kidney Kabaret for Janet Paone

By Betsey Norgard

Photo by Paul Nixdorf

In a summer 2007 community theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof, Janet Paone ’83 played Golde. Golde’s husband, Tevye, was played by John Vaughn, a Northwest Airlines pilot.

Four months later, she underwent transplant surgery and received a kidney that was given to her by Vaughn. Paone remains amazed at how this whole series of events evolved.

Since September 2005, Paone had appeared in the cast of Church Basement Ladies, playing Mrs. Vivian Snustad, in the comedy based on the book Growing Up Lutheran, by Janet Letnes Martin ’68 and Suzann (Johnson) Nelson ’68. While Paone had lived with reduced kidney functioning since birth, it worsened into renal failure, and her doctors put her on the transplant list.

Paone turned down out-of-town gigs, and a friend told her about the Fiddler production, a show she had done as an Augsburg student and loved. When she got to know Vaughn, he asked about her illness.

“Oh, I need a kidney,” Paone said offhandedly.

“Well, you can have mine,” Vaughn replied.

Paone took this as purely a casual remark, but Vaughn persisted. He told her he would contact the clinic. Preliminary tests showed him to be a potential match, to be confirmed with a battery of testing. They became close friends.

Four months later, Paone’s regular check-up indicated she had reached a crisis point and would have to start dialysis until a transplant became available. After Fiddler, she and Vaughn had gone their own ways, and she thought he might have reconsidered. She set a date for dialysis.

But the very next day, Vaughn contacted her with news that he had finally been able to schedule the battery of tests. He asked how she’d been. She told him honestly, and added, “Is that kidney still available?”

“I just started crying,” Paone says. “The timing was crazy.”

Vaughn was a good match, and on November 27, after several heart-toheart talks with him, Paone received the kidney he donated. She says he told her that the true gift she could give him in return was her good health.

Paone’s recovery went remarkably well, and she was back on stage in the winter, continuing her role as Mrs. Snustad in Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping. She and Vaughn have remained in close touch since.

What Paone now faces are thousands of dollars in medical bills, with few resources to cover them. A month after surgery, several friends in the theatre community began talking about a fundraiser, and a planning “posse” formed, including several Augsburg classmates. Katie Koch ’06, assistant to the director at the Guthrie Theater, knows Paone well and served as coordinator.

The “Kidney Kabaret” played at Augsburg on April 21, with many actors and musicians stepping forward to donate services, time, and talents, which also included technical support for sound and lighting, and event decorations.

A silent auction offered more than 125 items from theaters, restaurants, churches, sports teams, and radio stations. The program acts were all friends, co-actors, and colleagues of Paone from past theater productions. WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro and Dale Connelly, from Minnesota Public Radio, co-hosted the evening.

Special guest Dr. Mark Odland, Paone’s transplant surgeon, was introduced, along with staff from HCMC’s kidney transplant program. Vaughn was recognized and lauded for his gift of life to Paone.

More than $15,000 was donated, and the Janet Paone Transplant Fund was set up at U.S. Bank with the help of Auggie classmate David Young ’82. Sponsors for the event were Curt Wollan and TroupeAmerica, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and Augsburg.

A “posse” of theatre friends organized an evening of fun in Paone’s benefit. Front row, L to R: Dorian Chalmers, Darcey Engen ’88, Janet Paone ’83, Linda Twiss. Back row, L to R: Doug Flateau, Deb Pearson ’83, Katie Koch ’06. Photo by Betsey Norgard

Following her kidney transplant in November 2007, Paone faced thousands of dollars in medical bills, with few resources to cover them. Within a month, friends in the theatre community began talking about a fundraiser, and a planning “posse” formed, with several Augsburg classmates stepping forward. Katie Koch ’06, assistant to the director at the Guthrie Theater, knows Paone well and served as committee coordinator. Dorian Chalmers, fellow Church Basement Ladies actress, organized and ran the silent auction. Others included Deb J. Pearson ’83, Darcey Engen ’88, Kari Logan ’82, Doug Flateau, and Linda Twiss, at TroupeAmerica.

The “Kidney Kabaret” played at Augsburg one night only on April 21, with many actors and musicians stepping forward to donate services, time, and talents, which also included technical support for sound and lighting, and event decorations.

The silent auction offered more than 125 items from theaters, restaurants, churches, sports teams, and radio stations. Items included a bicycle purchased to donate by employees of Penn Cycle, a Minnesota Twins bat signed by Joe Mauer, a bowling evening with the Church Basement Ladies in costume, air time with Ian and Margery on FM 107.1, and quilts, photos, and baskets from Paone’s childhood neighbors and church, Abiding Savior Lutheran in Mounds View.

“Donations even came from people who didn’t even know Janet, but saw something advertised or on a call board,” Chalmers mentioned.

Paone and Vaughn sang “Do You Love Me?” from Fiddler on the Roof, now sharing the gift of Vaughn’s kidney. Photo by Paul Nixdorf

The program acts were all friends, co-actors, and colleagues of Paone from past theater productions, most recently from Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and Church Basement Ladies. WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro met her at Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and was happy to co-host the show with Dale Connelly, co-host of the Morning Show on The Current, and parent of a theater student at Irondale High School, where Paone has directed theater for more than 20 years.

Highlights included the Church Basement Ladies cast, Those Lutheran Ladies, fingerstyle guitarist Tim Sparks, opera singer Andy Wilkowske, and Irondale theater students, coached by Paone. The show ended poignantly with a reprise of Vaughn and Paone singing “Do You Love Me?,” as Tevye and Golde.

Janet Paone ’83 (center) with kidney donor John Vaughn reunites with the Hennepin County Medical Center kidney transplant team, led by Dr. Mark Odland (back row, third from left). Photo by Paul Nixdorf

The reason for the evening was not forgotten, as special guest Dr. Mark Odland, Paone’s transplant surgeon, was introduced, along with staff from HCMC’s kidney transplant program. [Janet Paone ’83 (center) with kidney donor John Vaughn reunites with the Hennepin County Medical Center kidney transplant team, led by Dr. Mark Odland (back row, third from left).] Vaughn was recognized and lauded for his gift of life to Paone. He continues to advocate for donors and encourages others to make the same decision.

More than $15,000 was donated, and the Janet Paone Transplant Fund was set up with the help of Auggie classmate David Young ’82, branch manager at U.S. Bank’s St. Anthony Falls Office. (The fund is accessible at any U.S. Bank office.) Sponsors for the Kidney Kabaret were Curt Wollan and TroupeAmerica, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and Augsburg.

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