Their guardian angel: Denville woman staunch advocate for those with kidney disease

By Jillian Risberg 

It was a kismet moment Donna Tissot won’t soon forget. That one summer her brother-in-law Nick Sauter was deathly ill with renal failure and needed a cart to get down to the beach.


“He’s gonna die and I’ve got to save his life,” says Tissot, with the stark reality hitting her hard.

The advocate says she’s always had a passion for helping people that she attributes to growing up in a close-knit family. 


“There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other,” she says. “My friend’s mother would always say, ‘will you still visit me when I’m 80’ — I’m still visiting her at 98, although with the precautionary measures of COVID.”


With no knowledge of exactly how but sheer determination, Tissot went into full advocacy mode, distributing flyers, launching a Facebook page, sharing meaningful posts, corresponding posters and learning various software.  


According to the advocate, her audience erupted, and thus began her journey to save her brother-in-law and strangers who urgently need a kidney transplant. 


“Fortunately 30 people expressed interest in helping me because of Donna’s efforts,” says Sauter.


None were compatible. 


“Donna began a nationwide search to find a kidney for me shortly after I began dialysis,” says the Little Falls man. “Dialysis saved my life but it did not give me life. I struggled on dialysis with low blood pressure, weakness and developed a life-threatening blood infection.”

It took two years of Tissot’s unrelenting aid when in 2018 Sauter finally located his match, who lived just two doors away.

“I will be forever grateful to Donna and to my donor Rob Connizzo for saving my life,” Sauter says. 


The 65-year-old saw the former firefighter and EMT grow up, but never could have dreamed that the young neighbor would become his lifeline. 

Nick is a new man.


“With Rob’s generous gift of life, I can now enjoy my retirement with my wife and family,” Sauter says. “I don’t have to schedule events around dialysis.”


It’s imperative to keep moving the message along. 

“Sharing is caring and it can save a life,” says Tissot. “That’s the beauty of it.” 


She gets very close to the families and has met many wonderful people along the way.

And the advocate has an apropos mantra. 


“Share your spare, you only need one kidney,” Tissot says. “I’m looking for healthy people to come forward and give hope.”

Most of these patients are so sick they can’t advocate for themselves, according to Tissot and the families are the caregivers and they can’t help out.

“Why not help these people,” she says. “Everyone deserves to live, that’s my mission the last few years and I’m positive I’m gonna be saving more lives in the very near future.”

She doesn’t want anything.

“I do this out of the kindness of my heart,” Tissot says. 

Word spread and the advocate started getting calls.


“I saved three people’s lives,” says Tissot, of her efforts paying off. “Right now I’m advocating for 10 more.  I get one to five requests each day. I’m a one-person staff.  It’s a full-time job.”


She is also currently advocating for Gerard Ceraso, of Toms River — in dire need of a donor; Tony Matarazzo, of Franklin Lakes — coming close to matching thanks to Tissot and Ledgewood’s Alyssa O’Neill, who desperately needs a donor.


Her compassion for people runs deep and at the end of the day Tissot says this has been incredibly rewarding.  

“One gentleman became a grandfather, he gets to enjoy his grandchild (while) not being hooked up to a machine,” she says. 


How do you thank someone for giving you a new lease on life? Many are eternally grateful to Tissot. 

“You gotta believe in hope and believe you’re gonna have a better tomorrow because of getting a new kidney and a selfless person coming forward,” she says.


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