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Well-known Columbus sports writer receives kidney donation from Blue Jackets employee

Aaron Portzline (right), a well-known sports writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, is receiving a kidney donation from an employee of the hockey team. He is pictured with a member of his treatment team.
Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Aaron Portzline (right), a well-known sports writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, is receiving a kidney donation from an employee of the hockey team. He is pictured with a member of his treatment team.

Aaron Portzline has been a journalist for about 35 years. He’s been covering the Columbus Blue Jackets since the team got started in 2000, first for the Columbus Dispatch and now for The Athletic NHL.

As a reporter, he never meant to be part of a story, but that changed when he decided to go public about his stage 5 kidney failure in October. He wrote on social media, “I am not well.”

“I wanted to do something, what I could, to raise awareness for organ donation,” Portzline said.

Portzline has polycystic kidney disease. It’s a genetic disease that members of Portzline’s family share. His mother and brother have already had kidney transplants.

The disease and kidney failure had left Portzline to get frequent dialysis to keep him alive. On Thursday, he had what he hopes is his last dialysis, because on Friday, he’s set to get a new kidney.

His donor, Lindy Noel, is a communications specialist for the Columbus Blue Jackets. She learned about Portzline’s need from his social media post.

“And it inspired me. It made me want to help. And I went through the testing process, and here we are,” Noel said Thursday afternoon, just hours before the surgery.

Around 90,000 people in the U.S. alone are waiting for a kidney on any given day, according to the nonprofit Donate Life America.

“Sadly, some of them won’t get one,” Portzline said.

Portzline waited months before finding a match in Noel. Several times, people who were tested came close to being matches, but were ultimately ruled out.

“You’d get the phone call from them saying, ‘hey, I got bounced,’” Portzline said. “The first couple were easier to take than the ones that followed.”

Then, in March, he finally got the call that Noel was approved.

Noel and Portzline have known each other for three seasons but were not particularly close. Noel does public relations and communications work for the Blue Jackets, but doesn’t cover the same content as Portzline.

“Our jobs interface, but don't on a daily basis interact necessarily, but certainly we were familiar with each other. And we've always gotten along obviously,” Portzline said.

Noel said it wasn’t a tough decision to give Portzline a Kidney, but it was one she couldn’t have made without the support of her fiancé.

“I feel very confident in the decision that I've made to donate.”
- Lindy Noel of Columbus

Noel said she’s not too worried about the impending procedure. Noel knows there will be a little pain and limitations during recovery, but she has been told that she’ll be walking within a day.

“I'm nervous in the sense that, like, I've never had major surgery before, but I'm not nervous and anxious or freaking out or anything like that,” Noel said. “I feel very confident in the decision that I've made to donate.”

Portzline said he’s “two parts apprehensive, one part excited,” or maybe “one part apprehensive and two parts excited,” now that his final dialysis is done. He said his “amazing doctors” have inspired confidence.

Portzline called donating a kidney “an incredible, charitable act,” and encourages everyone who is willing to become an organ donor to have it listed on their driver’s licenses or put their wishes for organ donation into their wills.

People can also get tested to becoming living donors, like Noel, and have a long, healthy life after donation, Portzline said.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.