Saint Anselm women’s hockey standout Amanda Conger first officially met Cameron Ouellette on a Friday. Days later, Conger donated one of her kidneys to Ouellette, who was suffering from stage five kidney disease.
Conger was named the 25th recipient of the Hockey Humanitarian Award, an honor given annually to hockey’s finest citizen — specifically a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team, but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism.
“When I first found out I was in complete shock and so honored,” Conger said. “I’m so thankful that winning this award allows me to share this on another platform, so I can spread the awareness and importance of organ donation.”
Conger, a native of Swanton, Vermont, was familiar with Ouellette’s story, but the two hadn’t formally met until days before she donated her kidney.
“He was a complete stranger up until about three or four days before the donation,” Conger said.
Conger worked an internship at Vermont-based Thunder Road International Speedbowl, where Ouellette raced. Conger was initially drawn to Ouellette’s pink car he drove at the track to support breast cancer awareness.
“At the beginning of the season, he was there, but towards the middle and at the end of the season, the pink car stopped coming around,” Conger said. “During this time, I didn’t know Cameron. I knew his name and we’ve probably smiled in passing around the track, but we never communicated. He was essentially a stranger.”
Conger later saw that Ouellette put a plea out on Facebook, stating that he was in need of a kidney. Unbeknownst to Ouellette, Conger requested a packet of information from the local transplant center.
“I didn’t think that I would be his donor, but something inside of me said to try … at least you can say that you tried,” Conger said. “So, I went in with that attitude. When I got the results, my blood was a perfect match and they said that they wanted to continue with me through the donor process.”
Conger’s older brother, Matt, was the reason why she had interest in donating.
“He donated bone marrow about four years ago,” Conger said. “And I just thought that was fantastic. I told myself, if I ever had the same opportunity, I would really want to do something like that.”
Ouellette is also 24, a year younger than Conger’s brother. That was another reason why she opted to donate.
“I just put my brother in Cameron’s shoes,” Conger said. “I’m so thankful that my brother is healthy, but if my brother was in the same position, I would hope that somebody would do for him what I did for Cameron. Cameron is a 24-year-old with his whole life in front of him, and that’s what drove me to continue wanting to donate to him. I just kind of told myself that this was the right thing to do.”
Conger, 22, chose to stay anonymous throughout the entire donor process — until the two formally met days before the transplant.
“Because of my age, I had to do a three-month wait period to really think about what I was doing and if I understood all the risks and consequences,” Conger said. “Once my three months was up, I still held firm with my decision and I wanted to donate my kidney to Cameron.”
Before they met, Conger checked people into the pit area, giving them wristbands, as one of her summer internship jobs at the track. Ouellette frequently came to Conger’s window.
“At that time, he had no clue that I was going through this process of trying to be his donor,” Conger said. “He had no clue and I was just kind of holding onto a secret.”
Conger held onto that secret until the two officially met at the racetrack.
“The owner of the racetrack walked me over to Cameron’s race trailer in the pits,” Conger said. “I still had my employee shirt on, so to Cameron it just looked like the track owner and an employee were walking to his car. The owner said, ‘Hey, Cameron do you want to meet your donor?’ and that’s when the floodgates started pouring because I was crying out of happiness and Cameron’s family was crying.”
After Conger donated her kidney, she had to stay one night in the hospital, while Ouellette had a two-to-three-week stay.
“Before the whole process, I knew that Cameron was going to get my kidney, and then going to the hospital to see him when my kidney was in his body was a totally different feeling,” Conger said. “Seeing him in the hospital was great.”
Once the track opened, and he was healthy enough to attend races, Conger sat with Ouellette during intermissions. When Conger returned to school, the two continued to keep in touch through text messages, particularly during the current coronavirus pandemic.
“He would give me updates on his blood and how he was resuming back to normal life, which was always wonderful to hear,” Conger said. “I’ve just been checking on him and seeing how he’s doing. Our relationship is strange, it’s like a complete stranger is now part of the family.”
Conger’s selfless act restored normalcy for Ouellette.
The Hockey Humanitarian Award Foundation presented a check to Conger for $2,500 with the funds earmarked to Donate Life Vermont, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of organ, eye and tissue donation. Conger also donated $500 to the organization as one of the five award finalists.
“I just hope I make my community proud, and my parents and my brother proud,” Conger said. “It’s a reflection on how they raised me and how my mentors and past coaches helped shape me. I’m grateful for the impact they made on my life.”
Additionally, Conger also volunteers with Team IMPACT, Girls with Power Tools and her college’s on-campus hub for prevention, education and awareness of domestic and dating violence.
“I just wanted to make a positive impact in the life of others,” Conger said. “It gives women a chance to feel confident and empower themselves, that they can stand out and make a difference.”
Photo courtesy of Saint Anselm
Conger, after her medical procedure, also had an opportunity to play her senior season, skating in a career-high 32 games and finishing with three goals and 13 points. She played in a program-record 116 games in four seasons — missing only two games in four years and registering 31 goals and 72 points.
She’s thankful for the impact that she was able to make. Conger, a biology major, is currently hunkering down in her hometown with her family during the pandemic. She knows it will end at some point in time.
For now, Conger is just happy to share her story.
“The more my story is shared, the more awareness it brings,” Conger said. “I think a lot of people that I’ve talked to say that they’d do it for a family member or a friend, but they could never do it for a stranger. And that’s the part I really want to drill home, is that it’s great to do it for family and friends, but the option for a stranger is always still there. And they’ll appreciate it just as much as your family and friends.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.