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Mother of NHL Hockey Star Donates Kidney to Ice Rink Manager Who Kept Her Kids Out of Trouble

Bonnie O'Reilly gives 'gift of a lifetime' to former manager who used to let her kids skate extra hours.

Graham Nesbitt, left, received a donated kidney from Bonnie O'Reilly, right, on Wednesday at a hospital in London, Ont. O'Reilly's sons, Ryan and Cal, became professional hockey players after skating in an arena managed by Nesbitt when they were young. (Twitter: St. Louis Blues)

Both of Bonnie's boys are now grown men playing professional hockey, but when they were young and growing up in Seaforth, Ont., Graham Nesbitt was a local legend and huge supporter.

As manager of the local arena in the community of about 3,000 people, Nesbitt would open the doors on snow days or after regular hours so scores of local kids could skate.

"They'd call and say, 'Is there any way we can get onto the ice before school?'" recalls Graham's son, Joe Nesbitt. "He'd have the arena open at 6:30 a.m. so people could skate. He just wanted kids to be active and busy, not getting into trouble. It was his outlet as a kid and he wanted to pass it on." cbc

Nesbitt retired as Seaforth's arena manager in 2003, going on to work for Olympia Ice Resurfacing and later the Ontario Recreation Facilities Association. He's known all over southwestern Ontario as a good guy to call if your arena ice isn't coming in right or the resurfacing machine goes wonky.

Both of O'Reilly's sons went on to play in the NHL. Ryan is the captain of the St. Louis Blues, and Cal, who has played for a few different NHL teams, is currently with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League.

Ryan O'Reilly shares the Stanley Cup with his 99-year-old grandmother after winning the NHL championship in 2019. Ryan and his brother, Cal, were often given extra ice time by Nesbitt when they were young players, and on Wednesday, Ryan's mother Bonnie donated a kidney to Nesbitt. (Allison Devereaux/ CBC News )

O'Reilly donated the kidney a few weeks ago, and both her and Nesbitt are recovering well.

In 2011, Nesbitt was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger's disease. Patients with the disease build up an antibody in the kidneys that over time can limit their ability to filter blood. Medication helped control Nesbitt's condition until 2019, when it became clear he'd need a kidney transplant.

Many in the the Seaforth area stepped up for Nesbitt, offering to become donors.

When O'Reilly was identified as a good match, she agreed to give Nesbitt one of her kidneys.

"She says that 'What you've done for my boys, helping them achieve their goal of playing professional hockey, it's the least we can do,'" Joe Nesbitt said, quoting O'Reilly. "My dad is just blown away by this."

To him, the donation is evidence of the special bond that often forms among hockey families.

"Your team growing up, you become more than just a team, you kind of become family," Joe Nesbitt said. "It's kind of left me speechless.

"Something my dad's always taught me is to be kind and helpful and generous to everybody," he said. "It just goes to show that those thoughtful acts and caring for people, it pays off. It truly paid off for my dad and saved his life."


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