Charity Center

Real Stories

Merle's Story


His wife calls him “the king of denial,” but the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin knows him as Merle Steelman. He is a workaholic that retired this year and now spends his days as an enthusiastic volunteer at NKFW, fixing kinks as the “tech-guy.”  

Merle was sick for a long time before he was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was put on dialysis for two years, bringing some pain while in treatment, but doing “a world of good” as he continued to work, even bringing his laptop to the dialysis center.

Merle credits the information and education his dialysis social worker provided for helping him understand the cost and benefits of a transplant. He finally received a kidney transplant in October 2009 and has been doing well since.

“Everyone should be put in a one-week health insurance class” to help educate recipients on what is yet to come, Merle said.

Merle also praises the NKFW for what they did for him after becoming a kidney recipient, leading him to be an office volunteer.

“I got a lot of help initially – educational materials and programs,” Merle stated. “They have training for dialysis patients. I gained a lot from the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin.”

The advice for potential volunteers from Merle?

“If they are inclined to do so, they should definitely volunteer. This place is run on volunteers. They are masterful in always having something to do for people when they come in,” Merle said.

If you would like to volunteer for the NKFW, visit: . Honor Merle and have your own #NKFWGivingMoment this Giving Tuesday here: .

Judy's Story


Judy Mayer is a dietitian and living-well educator that teaches cooking classes for the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin’s (NKFW) transplant support groups. Her passion for helping people with kidney disease was passed onto her by Cindy Huber, CEO for the NKFW.

“I love teaching cooking classes for the transplant support groups. The participants are so gracious and willing to share their success stories – and they like my recipes,” Judy said. 

The NKFW has many resources for people that are affected by kidney disease, including Judy’s kidney friendly recipes. There are events that are held, free screenings and educational materials, and dedication from the people who work for NKFW.

“This should be the first place to look after a diagnosis of kidney disease. I don’t think enough people are aware of the resources and help it can offer” Judy said.

Be like Judy and share your #NKFWGivingMoment at
To learn more about healthy food to donate to your local food pantry, click here.

Dana's Story


In 2005, Dana Neal and Kneaded Relief Day Spa & Wellness lost a co-worker and a friend, Janelle Waterman, from a rare kidney disease at the age of 27. Today, they are volunteers and enthusiastic participants at National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin events. She and Kneaded Relief Day Spa & Wellness donate to the Spotlight on Life auction and are participants in the Capital City 5K Run/Walk event.

Kneaded Relief Day Spa & Wellness employees volunteer their time in memory of Janelle and host a Silent Auction each August around Janelle’s birthday. In addition, when Kneaded Relief Day Spa & Wellness moved to a new building, they named a suite after Janelle.

Since the loss of Janelle, Dana has been commended by customers, the dialysis center Janelle went to and others for her continued involvement in memory of Janelle.

“Stories come up all the time with customers,” Dana said.

Dana understands any involvement and time given makes a difference. There isn’t any gesture too small and it can be done in a variety of ways. Anything and everything can make a difference.

“Even the little things count,” Dana said.

Take the next steps to share your #NKFWGivingMoment at: If you would like to learn more about #GivingTime, visit:

Pat's Story


Between five brothers and two sisters, Patrick Chowaniec had an overwhelming amount of support when he needed a kidney transplant. Although he didn’t ask for a kidney from any of his siblings, being the big brother, John offered his kidney to Patrick. In 1982, Patrick received his kidney transplant.

As a passionate volunteer for the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin, Patrick is continually helping around the NKFW office and during events. Even his children are engaged with the events as they make it a family outing to participate in the Capital City 5k Walk/Run  

“My kids come out and help at the walks and bring their families. They make it a family event,” Patrick said.

Patrick donates his time because he benefited from the National Kidney Foundation. He became more involved in 2002 after the Transplant Games where he got to know Cindy Huber. He believes that talking with people and hearing their stories can influence volunteering.

“When people hear my story, they can see what the donation does. Just talking to people and telling them my story would probably get them thinking about it,” Patrick said.

Be next to share your #NKFWGivingMoment at: . If you would like to learn more about volunteering visit: or about living donation visit: .

Aaron's Story


Aaron Cole knows the reality of kidney disease too well. First, his father was lost due to kidney complications. As he grew up, his mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. She was on dialysis for a year as they worked on getting a kidney donor. They discovered that Aaron’s brother was a match, but she was too far along to receive the transplant. The lasting effect of losing two parents to kidney health pushes Aaron.

Since then, Aaron has been an advocate for kidney health education. As a member of Collegiate DECA of Wisconsin, he and the board were part of a video that discussed the education of kidney health and how it has affected them. They have also chosen the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin to be their Civic Consciousness Project.  

“A lot of the time, people don’t realize, one, most people can live with one kidney and two, life-style is directly and indirectly affecting your kidneys,” Aaron said.

Although people downplay the severity of kidney health or are not as educated in the area as they should be, this shouldn’t stop anyone from begin to learn and educate others around you.

“It’s downplayed because people think it’s only for old people,” Aaron said.

Don’t be uneducated about kidney healthy and take the pledge, as Aaron has, to educate and inform others about kidney health.  If you would like to learn more, visit: to “Like” and “Share” to add your name to the cause today. Also, take the next step to share your #NKFWGivingMoment or donate to the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin at: