President Emeritus Jim Doti donates kidney to Santa Ana grandfather

jim doti

President Emeritus Jim Doti was inspired to donate a kidney after witnessing a close friend do the same. “I’ve lived my life,” he said. “Now I can give something back.” Photo by Mia Fortunato

There typically isn’t much opportunity for a university president and a cabinet maker’s paths to cross. But on March 18, when Chapman’s President Emeritus Jim Doti donated a kidney to 52-year-old grandfather Jose Tolento, they did.

Jose Tolento, a Santa Ana resident, had been on dialysis for more than six years – until Doti’s kidney became a match.

“I’ve lived my life and now I can give something back,” Doti said. “I’m not sacrificing my life span, it’s not a big deal. What is a big deal is Jose and his family. How many opportunities does anybody have to save another person’s life?”

When Doti met Jose Tolento and his family, he said, Tolento’s son and daughter translated for Doti, as Jose Tolento does not speak English.

“The most moving thing was when I walked in and his little granddaughter came running and hugged me and wouldn’t let go,” Doti said. “That’s when I knew it was all worthwhile. The little sacrifice I made was to give this man and his family the gift of life.”

Jose Tolento was placed on the kidney transplant list December 2018.

“Before the transplant, (while) on dialysis, he was still working part-time and when he’d get home, he’d be very tired and exhausted,” said Leticia Tolento, who spoke on behalf of her father in a phone interview with The Panther. “Sometimes he’d get home not feeling well, sometimes he’d be tired and just go straight to bed right after dialysis.”

Some members of Jose Tolento’s family were nervous about waiting for a donor, as they had seen a friend’s aunt wait on the kidney transplant list for eight years, Leticia Tolento said.

“If there was any pain (Doti) was feeling, he didn’t show it,” Leticia Tolento said. “How grateful we all are for Dr. Doti and the miracle he gave us.”

Leticia Tolento said her father will recover for three to six months, but visiting friends and family have already seen improvements in his health.

“His complexion has changed; he has a lot more energy and he feels like he can do more,” Tolento said.

Doti was inspired to become a donor after witnessing a close friend donate a kidney. He went to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) donor website to apply, but ran into a roadblock: At age 71, he was above UCI’s donor age limit of 65.

After reading a 2012 BBC article about an 83-year-old man who became the oldest person to donate a kidney to a patient in England, Doti called to speak to Uttam Reddy, the medical transplant program director at University of California, Irvine Medical Center.

“He told me that 65 is the limit because the organs start breaking down and only very healthy people can give a kidney,” Doti said. “I run marathons, I’ve never smoked, never been much of a drinker … I’ve climbed mountains all over the world, so I think I’m pretty healthy.”

Doti went through $10,000 worth of health tests before he was able to donate. After receiving the all-clear, the search for a perfect match began. Doti received a call a week before his surgery, notifying him of the match with Jose Tolento. The surgery was scheduled for one week later.

Doti, who now teaches economics at Chapman, planned for the surgery to take place during the university’s spring break to avoid missing classes. He returned to campus without taking prescribed pain medication and has not missed any class.

“I was teaching 80 students in my econometrics class, so I didn’t want to miss it,” Doti said.

Doti said he can feel his strength returning. Once recovered, he told The Panther he plans to take part in the upcoming Orange County half-marathon May 5.