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Tim Dace and Lexie Matthews
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The balloons that revealed the surprise for Tim.
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A Holiday Story of Leatherneck Generosity

December 5, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – In a story woven with two generations of Western Illinois University alumni, and the Leatherneck spirit of giving, a lifesaving gift this holiday season is being appreciated by two families.

WIU alumnus Tim Dace '89, has known for 20 years that he has polycystic kidney disease. He also knew the diagnosis would eventually mean the medical necessity of a kidney transplant; however, many potential donors were eliminated over time because the disease runs in his family.

About three years ago, Tim and his wife, Marsha '89, '91, a counselor in the University Counseling Center, began the journey of trying to find a private donor that would match his blood type and other medical factors.

Several family friends underwent testing to determine if they were matches, but each time the answer was a disappointing, "no." Marsha, a recent breast cancer survivor, was also told she could not be a donor.

On March 22, 2021, the Dace family gathered at a local restaurant to celebrate Tim's birthday with friends, which included his best friend, Jack Matthews, of Colchester, IL, and his children, Dalton and Lexie. Both families were aware that at least one member of the Matthews family had undergone testing to determine if they were a donor match.

"We were all eating together and Lexie went to her car because she said she needed to get something," Tim said. "She came back with some balloons and handed them to me. On the back of one of them, Lexie had drawn a kidney and on another she had written, 'We're approved.'"

Before undergoing days of testing, Lexie '18, a WIU agriculture alumna who lives in Minneapolis, MN, had known it was possible she was a match because her blood type matched Tim's.

"I decided this was something I wanted to pursue," said Lexie. "I'm healthy; I have two kidneys, so I put in an application online and the hospital reached out. I didn't tell my family because I knew they would panic a little. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and there was no point in sharing until I knew for sure."

Lexie outlined the long process before testing, which included video visits with psychiatrists and psychologists to make sure she was confident in her decision to be a donor. After that process, Lexie was invited to Mayo Clinic for two days of testing.

"There was blood work, an EKG, CAT scans and other panels," said Lexie. "Then I came home and waited for the results while my whole team met with the transplant board. Then, I received the phone call that I was a match."

Lexie was tasked with the news of telling Tim and his family, which she said timed perfectly with Tim's birthday.

"I never wavered in my decision, but how do I tell them that I'm a match," she said. "I decided his birthday was the right time and I was back in the area for a visit. I am no artist, by any means, but I drew a kidney on one balloon. Marsha saw it first, and Tim had to put on his glasses to see it. When he realized what it said it was an emotional moment and everyone choked up a bit."

Tim said he was in "complete shock" when he realized the message the balloons were conveying.

"I couldn't believe that someone would be willing to do something so selfless to help my family and me," he said. "Kidney donation is referred to as 'The Big Ask The Big Give' because there is no bigger sacrifice that a person can give."

Because Tim's health had stabilized, the next several months included the process of scheduling the transplant between work and family obligations for both Tim and Lexie. Tim runs several area grain elevators and Lexi works cyber security sales.

"There were a lot of moving parts," said Lexie. "I had changed jobs, and it needed to be the right time of year because we would both be out of work for a month."

On Friday, Nov. 4, both Tim and Lexie underwent transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic. Tim said he was up and walking just a few hours after surgery. Although Lexie had an allergic reaction to some of the medications, Tim was anxious to see her.

Lexie said her surgery was similar to a C-section, and, while she is still a bit sore, she is back to work. She has been amazed at how quickly Tim's health rebounded after his transplant.

"My dad said he hadn't seen Tim's color look that good in 10-15 years," said Lexie. "It's wild how his body responded right away."

Tim and Marsha were continually impressed with the medical personnel at Mayo Clinic during the entire process.

"They were top notch - from the nurses to the lady we gave money to when we left the parking garage; they were all amazing," he said. "When we checked out of the hospital, we left some money so they could have a party."

After two weeks in Minnesota, Tim and Marsha returned home to rural Roseville, IL. During their medical stay, the couple celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary, and Tim said he is grateful to Marsha for being a "stable force" during the ongoing story.

"She is a natural caregiver," he said.

While the Dace and Matthews families already had a close bond, this experience has made the relationship even stronger.

"This definitely brought us closer and we will always have that tie," Lexie said. "We're just a piece of each other physically and metaphorically."

Tim chronicled each step of his transplant journey on his Facebook page and told his followers his gratitude to Lexie is indescribable.

"There is nothing I can ever do, or enough words to explain what this means to me and my family," he said. "The generosity that Lexie has blessed me and my family with has changed our lives forever. Not only has my life been changed forever, but Marsha, Dakota (son, '16, agriculture), Jared (son), future daughter-in-laws brothers, sisters and grandchildren's lives will be changed. Lexie will be a part of the Dace family forever, and I couldn't be prouder of her. She has given me a new lease on life and for that I am forever grateful."

Tim now has three kidneys, but said he may have his two "native" kidneys removed next summer.

Nationwide, there are over 100,000 men, women and children on national transplant waiting lists. Kidney donation can occur at any time as a person can live with one kidney. On average, 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing