Gift of giving lands friends on 'Ellen'
Bonnie Roueche figured if her nephew could give up a kidney, she could surely make a few more phone calls.
And so, despite several failed attempts, Roueche’s inspired drive was able to land one of the biggest TV personalities in the business to highlight an emotional account of Rob Rushman’s kidney donation.
Rushman, a 36-year-old man from Pekin, was inspired by an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show to donate his kidney to his longtime friend Linda Staker.
Roueche, who finally got through to the Los Angeles-based program last week, wanted to surprise Rushman with something special from the show that started his giving in the first place.
DeGeneres thought the story was compelling enough to feature on her show and the pay-it-forward philosophy Rushman initially displayed was now coming full circle.
The segment on The Ellen DeGeneres Show can be seen Tuesday on ABC. Future segments after the pair recovers are in the works.
"Ellen touched Rob’s heart and Rob’s actions touched my heart and now millions of people can be touched by this story on TV," Roueche said. "It really has been overwhelmingly emotional. It has been a huge pinch-me type experience."
Rushman initially decided to donate his kidney after DeGeneres’ Days of Christmas episode aired. He started looking into the process in January and on March 4, found that he was a perfect match with Staker. The two successfully underwent the surgery Monday and are now recovering at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.
"You could see how happy (the 12 Days of Christmas giving) made Ellen," Rushman has said previously. "I thought, I can’t do the money thing. But I can do the kidney thing."
The show’s crew, which was flown in last week, taped several hours of footage including a benefit dinner and auction Sunday to support the cause.
"It was a very touching event," Roueche said. "Even the guys that interviewed us for Ellen were emotional. They kept on telling me, ‘Bonnie, don’t start crying or you are going to make me cry.’ They were very touched by the story."
The dinner raised about $5,000, which Roueche said was about the group’s goal. And since Rushman’s time off work — recovery should take from four to six weeks — is not covered for this type of surgery, every little bit helps. Donations can still be made to the Rob Rushman and Linda Staker Kidney Transplant account at CEFCU.
"We’re all thinking about you two and once you’re recovered I want to meet both of you," DeGeneres said after she read a letter from Rushman on Monday’s episode of her show.
Brian Feldt can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or firstname.lastname@example.org.