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Local man to donate a kidney to his college friend in need



Joshua Smale volunteered to become a living organ donor for his college friend after learning James Vang was diagnosed with kidney failure.

Social media can be used to keep in touch with people miles apart. For two college friends, it was a life-saving connection.

Josh Smale and Onalaska native James Vang met in college in 2010. Since then, they have kept in touch on Facebook.

“One day, I saw he was having some troubles on Facebook and it caught my attention,” Smale said. “Later, I saw he was having issues with his kidneys and looking for a donor.

“I am a Christian, and I felt like it was something that I wanted to do and should do.”

Vang was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease in 2015. Since then, he has been doing dialysis for 3.5 hours three times a week.

“Everything just happened overnight,” Vang said. “I wasn’t aware of the symptoms and what kidney disease really was. I’m not able to attend family events because I am so tired. I’m not able to be there for my wife. Sometimes, I can’t walk the dog. Traveling or having a normal job or a normal life. It affects me entirely.”

Fortunately, Smale was a match and can donate one of his kidneys to Vang. Both have gone through rigorous health screenings to make sure it will be a success.

“I will get so much enjoyment in our family to see that maybe James can move on with his life and not have to be dragged down by this for the rest of his life,” Smale said.

Vang could not express enough gratitude for Smale’s donation.

“A college friend, now forever a brother to me, and an uncle to my future kids and a member of our family, Joshua Smale, you are the answer to our prayers!” Vang said. “For that, I will be forever grateful for your kindness. I will always look up to you and use your love as an example of how I will live mine.”

The surgery date is set for Oct. 17 at the Mayo Hospital in Rochester, Minn. There are online fundraising efforts to help cover the cost of surgery and recovery.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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