Today show here for Angela’s Fund

Tony Rushford, father of 5-year-old Angela Rushford, David Harper, the 38-year-old Mount Morris man who donated his kidney to Angela, and other members of the Angela Rushford Children’s Organ Donation Fund Advisory Committee announced earlier today on NBC’s Today show the establishment of The Angela Rushford Children’s Organ Donation Fund.

A press conference was scheduled for 9 a.m. today in the lobby of Rockford City Hall.

The fund, which will be administered by the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (CFNIL), is to be distributed to children 16 years of age and younger. The fund will offer financial assistance to help curb the costs of organ transplants and will promote organ donation.

“Hopefully, we’re going to open a lot of eyes,” Tony Rushford said of the donation fund, in an interview Jan. 14. “Hopefully, we’re going to knock down this cadaver list.”

Rushford’s daughter Angela had been on the cadaver from donor list for about six months before her parents placed a free classified ad in The Rock River Times seeking a kidney donor. Harper, who had never seen The Rock River Times before, responded to the ad and became the donor after tests revealed he was a close enough match to Angela’s type O positive blood. The transplant was Jan. 3 at University of Wisconsin at Madison Hospital.

In a statement released Jan. 15, Frank Schier, editor & publisher of The Rock River Times and Angela Rushford Children’s Organ Donation Fund Advisory Committee member, made a plea to all media outlets to offer free classified ads to those in need of an organ transplant.

“‘God works in mysterious ways,’ goes the saying,” Schier wrote. “We at The Rock River Times never dreamed that the free classified program we have for our residential readers would save the life of a little girl. This miraculous turn of events can be duplicated all over this country, if all newspapers offer free classifieds to those in need of organ donations. Our civic duty as journalists can extend and go far beyond much of the ‘bad news’ we must cover daily, if we all offer free classifieds for this very worthy cause.

“The electronic media can participate as well, by offering such a listing in their community service announcements,” Schier added.

The Rock River Times has created a special section for organ donations in its classified section.

The Rushfords’ ad ran for nine weeks and received about 50 responses, the Rushfords said. Marieke McClendon, The Rock River Times classified advertising manager, said free classified ads usually run for three weeks, although she decided to extend the Rushfords’ ad for another six weeks.

“When I received Patty Rushford’s classified ad call, our conversation started out fairly normal,” McClendon said. “Her inquiries got a little unusual when she asked me if she could place an ad seeking an organ donor.

“Patty placed the organ donor ad and told me it was for her daughter,” McClendon added. “We made a little small talk, and then she asked if she could place two more ads—one for a $4,000 antique watch and one for a gold plating machine that she was selling for at least $1,000. She told me she was placing the latter two ads in hopes of raising money to pay for her daughter’s insurance. Patty was extremely thankful and happy that the ads she placed to help her daughter were free. I remember that she seemed very optimistic and in good spirits about the whole situation.”

According to the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Network, more than 4,700 people in Illinois are waiting for an organ donation. Additionally, 80,000 U.S. patients are on a list for an organ donation, and 16 people die on average every day while waiting for a transplant.

“We just want to put the word out and help out all the other people out there that haven’t been quite as fortunate as our daughter,” Tony Rushford said of the fund. “Just to let them know that there is hope and not to forget that and just keep trying and try every possible avenue.”

Angela will remain in the hospital for another few days to a week. Tony Rushford said although his daughter is experiencing extreme pain due to bladder spasms about every hour, doctors expect a full recovery.

“She’s been in a little pain here now and then,” Tony Rushford said. “But they say that’s normal. But, as far as her kidney function, that’s great, and everything looks perfect.

“She has a very high tolerance for pain, and the fact that she’s complaining at all means it must be pretty painful right now,” Tony Rushford added.

Tony Rushford said the main problem is getting Angela’s medication straightened out. She’s currently on about seven or eight medications, although doctors expect to reduce that number to about one or two within the next year. Angela will need to be on medication for the rest of her life. Tony Rushford said the anti-rejection levels have been a little high and need to be knocked down.

Prior to her surgery, Angela was on about 11 medications. Angela also has a stent that will need to be in for about another four weeks, Tony Rushford said.

Angela suffered from polycystic renal disease, a hereditary disease in which cysts form in the kidneys, eventually leading to kidney failure. The only treatments for the disease are daily permanent dialysis or transplant.

One of the main symptoms of the disease is high blood pressure. Angela had suffered from high blood pressure, although Tony Rushford said the surgery appears to have corrected it.

Her blood pressure Jan. 6 was reported to be 130 over 63, and Tony Rushford said Angela’s blood pressure Jan. 14 was around 120 over 60. He said since the transplant, her blood pressure has been as low as 115 over 49.

The Rushfords’ story has gained much national and international media attention, being featured on NBC’s Today show, CNN, the CBS Evening News, and WGN, WBBM-AM, WMAQ-AM and other national television and radio programs.

The Rushfords have received many calls from well-wishers and others who have been inspired by their story. Tony Rushford said one such call came from a man who said both his wife and 18-month-old daughter suffered from the same disease as Angela. “He said until he saw the case on TV with Angie, it was the first time he had heard of someone else so young having the disease,” Tony Rushford said.

Polycystic renal failure is more common in the elderly.

Angela’s parents have been struggling to cover the costs of Angela’s medical care, which now total more than $600,000. Social Security is picking up part of the cost, but the remaining cost will leave the Rushfords financially decimated.

“We’re not doing too well financially right now,” Patty Rushford said.

Tony Rushford has been restricted to working out of the home for the past year and a half because he wanted to stay close to his daughter.

Tony Rushford said he hopes to start another foundation in the future that would focus specifically on matching donors with people of all ages who need an organ transplant.

Contributions to The Angela Rushford Children’s Organ Donation Fund can be made by contacting CFNIL’s Annette Skipper at 815-962-2110, or by visiting CFNIL’s Web site at

Founded in 1953, CFNIL is a public charity, and all contributions are tax deductible to the full extent of the law. CFNIL makes grants to charitable organizations, provides philanthropic and administrative services to donors, and stands as a steward of more than $36 million in community resources.

Angela Rushford Children’s Organ Donation Fund Advisory Committee members are as follows: Co-chairmen Tony Rushford and David Harper; Rockford Mayor Doug Scott; Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn; Illinois State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67); Rockford Park District Executive Director Webbs Norman.

University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford Assistant Dean for Health Systems Research Joel Cowen; Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network’s Julie Steller; SwedishAmerican Hospital Chief of Pediatrics Burton Moore; OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center Director of Pastoral Care Father William Wentink; Rockford Health System’s Dr. Michael Werckle; and The Rock River Times Editor & Publisher Frank Schier.

A benefit for the Angela Rushford family will be from noon until 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at Moose Lodge No. 1551, 101 Moose Dr., Mount Morris, Ill., 815-734-4161. Cost is $5 at the door and includes dinner, one drink, music, a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle, an Elvis impersonator, backup band DJ Cockran and karaoke. Advance tickets and items to be auctioned may be designated at 815-734-9028.

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