When Jonathan Lyon put out the call for a kidney, he never expected “Otter Mayhem” to answer the call.

But given the tight-knit world of Portland roller derby, with its reputation for both fierce competition and camaraderie, perhaps the men’s team skater known as “Flyin Lyon” should have expected the donor to be Ali “Otter” Kiger, a skater, captain, coach and referee from Maine Roller Derby, the women’s team.

“We’d never even met,” Lyon said. “We knew about each other, we’d seen each other around, but I don’t think we’d ever spoken. We were friends on Facebook. When I found out Otter was going to give me the kidney, I couldn’t believe it. … I mean, wow, roller derby. It can change your life.”

The two met for the first time Saturday night before Maine Roller Derby’s all-star team took on Ithaca and Lyon’s old team, the Casco Bay Roller Derby, faced Flour City Fear from Rochester, N.Y. It was a slightly awkward and teary-eyed introduction before the doubleheader at the Portland Expo.

“What do you say to someone who’s giving you a kidney?” Lyon said. “Thank you doesn’t really cover it.”

The two embraced, and introduced each other to Lyon’s parents and Kiger’s wife, to kick off a fundraiser to help cover Kiger’s lost wages during her five- to seven-week recovery from surgery. If all goes well, the 40-year-old Kiger will give her left kidney to Lyon on Aug. 14 at Maine Medical Center.

In 2014, shortly after joining roller derby, the now 24-year-old was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that attacks the kidney’s filters, causing scarring that can lead to permanent kidney damage and, as in Lyon’s case, kidney failure. In 2015, doctors had to remove both of Lyon’s kidneys.

That ended Lyon’s short roller derby career. Although he was on the team for about seven months, Lyon only got to play in one official game before he got ill. But he proudly recalls that the other team voted him Casco Bay’s best jammer in his one rostered game.

Now the young man who used to skate all over the city, even commuting to the ferry that would take him out to a job on Peaks Island, lives with his parents in Auburn. He spends fours hours a day three times a week hooked up to a dialysis machine. It is emotionally and physically draining, he said.

After Lyon fought off a series of infections, doctors declared him well enough to get a transplant last fall. The average wait for a kidney transplant is five years. He’d been on dialysis for a year and a half. That means he was facing another 3½-year wait for a kidney from a recently deceased donor.

Kiger explained her donation decision in a matter-of-fact way, downplaying the risk and discomfort.

“I saw the Facebook post, and I thought, why wouldn’t I?” Kiger said. “Then, when it became a thing that was going to happen, not just a piece of paper, it just seemed like in the grand scheme of things it was a very short period of discomfort for me that would make such a big impact on his life.”

The Windham resident recalled watching a video of him on roller skates doing a flip off a trampoline.

“I thought, that’s what 21-year-olds are supposed to be doing,” she said. “I want him to be that kid again.”

Kiger’s decision will shave three years off the average wait. Perhaps more important, the life span of a kidney donated by a live donor is twice that of one harvested from a cadaver, meaning that Lyon can expect 20 years of freedom from the dialysis machine.

Those who know Kiger aren’t surprised by her willingness to help. In the past, she has raised money for local animal shelters and a community action group. She is on the bone marrow donation registry. When they texted last week to set up a meeting, Kiger told Lyon she had just donated blood.

Kiger fully expects to return to roller derby after the surgery. Maybe not to the top-tiered travel team, but she made it clear that she’s not done with the sport. Because Kiger is in such good health, and her right kidney is operating at top capacity, doctors say she won’t feel any lingering effect.

And Kiger, who joined roller derby at the same time Lyon did, is devoted to the sport, teammates say.

“Otter doesn’t have to coach, she could skate on the team, but Otter saw a need and filled it,” said skater Heather “Hard Dash” Steeves. “She doesn’t have to officiate, but she saw a need and she filled it. This is just who she is. Just one of the kindest people ever.”

***

Ali “Otter Mayhem” Kiger will face no medical expenses from the surgery, but she won’t be able to return to work for five to seven weeks. Her Maine Roller Derby teammates have launched a Go Fund Me page for her at www.gofundme.com/pay-it-forward-kidney-donation. She plans to give excess donations to Jonathan “Flyin Lyon” Lyon, who has endured years of surgeries.

 

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