How JALT Saved my Life

How JALT Saved my Life

By: Joël Laurier

I am simply grateful to be alive. A simple thought, but one for me that carries a heavy sentiment, all because of the amazing community of JALT (the Japan Association for Language Teaching). The years 2021 and 2022 saw great pain for us all with the COVID pandemic. For me, it brought what some would consider a nightmare. For me, those years were the most awesome ride ever. In desperate need of a kidney, I lost my first kidney donor. I lost four jobs in a day because of an upcoming transplant. I even divorced my wife of twenty years. But through this all, I found the deepest love of all through a community I joined several years ago. For everything JALT has given me through my volunteering, over the last two years, it has also given me a sense of community and love that I will surely never be able to reproduce. For that I am grateful. And for the angels who appeared in my life during the last two years, I will carry their selfless compassion with me and offer it as hope to all my students and anyone who ever feels like luck has failed them.

In 2021, on a routine call with my great friend (and a Mind, Brain, and Education SIG member) Heather McCulloch, she offered me a gift. A kidney. She had known of my kidney disease and my declining health. She told me she had investigated the issue and the risks and wanted to help me. Undeterred by the potential health risk to her or the fact that her 9-year-old daughter could lose her mother, and unphased by the fact that by Japanese law she had to be a member of my family to donate, she proposed to give me one of her kidneys. The gift of life. Free of charge. Even more than that, she offered to marry me so we could meet the legal requirement.

Joey the kidney

To get married, I had to finalize the divorce agreement I had discreetly been working on. Nobody knew about it. Not even my great friend Heather. So, I finalized my divorce. Six days later I was back at City Hall getting married to a new wife, my angel Heather. She is the object of my eternal gratitude.

This phone call started the long trek now known as Joey’s journey. Along the way there were small and big bumps. It was at each of these turns that angels started appearing to me. Heather provided the kidney, the cheerleading, and all the excitement and love a person could ever give to another human being. More were to follow her determined effort to give me the gift of a new life.

While the journey was an exciting one, it was only because for every obstacle that we faced, another angel would appear. Countless thanks go out to Steven Herder and Louise Ohashi who took it upon themselves to start financing campaigns to help me overcome the financial drain I was going through. Their leadership and massive show of friendship allowed me to receive the gift of life. The support of the 200+ JALT members who felt compelled to join their march will stay in my heart for the rest of my life, my new life
with a new kidney.

Joey the Kidney has been in perfect health since he was transplanted. Heather continues to be a bundle of joy. And I remain eternally grateful for those angels who, through our JALT network, became more than just a community of teachers. They became my angels. JALT may officially be called the Japan Association for Language Teaching but for me it will always stand for Joey’s Angels Leaning Together.

Editor’s note: Before kidney failure, Joel was in the critical 3-person team setting up the first JALT/TESOL conference in Japan, hosted by the BRAIN SIG. The pandemic kept it from being live, but a smaller version was done online. Heather contributed one of our readers’ favorite articles and was the JALT 2020 Conference Kevin Cleary Invited Speaker.

Joël Laurier – Ph.D. candidate; soon to return to Keio University to teach again

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