A group of salon owners rally in love and support, as Lisa
Cochran donates her kidney to Domenic Cicala.

The Ultimate Gift
Domenic Cicala and Lisa Cochran are
glowing with health in January at Serious
Business, just two months following their
kidney transplant procedure in November.


Years ago, a small group
of salon owners met at
The Salon Association’s
Symposium (now part of
the Professional Beauty
Association) and maintained their connection
through regular postings on the association’s
list-serve. As time went on, they
dubbed themselves “SOS” for Salon Owner
Swap, and began forming their own regular
retreats, gathering at different locations to
share business-building ideas, commiserate
over staff behavior, and back up each other
on tough management decisions.


This past November, SOS took their
relationship to a whole new level, when
one member, Lisa Cochran, owner of The
Studio in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, donated
a kidney to Domenic Cicala, owner of O’Hair
Salon+Spa with locations in Gaithersburg
and Frederick, Maryland.


“I’ve always believed in organ donation,
and that everything happens for a reason,”
says Melanie McCain Loboda, a former salon
owner who now works as a stylist at Salon
Synergy in Manheim, Pennsylvania. “I knew
from day one that this group was special,
but the events over the past six months have
proven that we were brought together for so
much more than we ever dreamed.”


The successful, life-altering donation
would never have happened though if not for
Cochran’s gutsy perseverance and Cicala’s
gradual acceptance.


An Evolving Relationship


In January 2010, Cochran noted that Cicala
appeared thin and pale when the group met
at Serious Business in New Orleans, but she
didn’t push the issue. When she later heard
from a friend that he was quite sick, she
called Cicala for details. He told her that his
polycystic kidney disease had progressed
and he was preparing for a surgical procedure
to ready himself for dialysis.


Cicala, who had witnessed his mother and
an uncle suffer from the disease, admits he
was living in denial at the time. In January
2010, his doctor told him his numbers were
high and he needed to consult a nephrologist.
In March of that year, he was told he
needed to be on dialysis. “Like any busy
salon owner, I kept putting it off,” he says.
“I was busy running two salons and I didn’t
understand how this would fit in my life.”


Meanwhile, Cochran relentlessly called
Cicala, asking him if he was on the donor
list and telling him about a relative she
knew living on dialysis. Along the way
she was doing her own research, learning
there were more than 6,000 people on the
donor list in Cicala’s region (85,000 nationally),
and according to statistics only
25 percent of those would ever receive a
kidney. She began talking to her husband
about the possibility of donating her own
kidney. After a week of contemplating, they decided she should get tested to see if she
would be a match.


“My husband didn’t think I’d be a match
for Domenic, but in my heart I already
knew I would,” she says. Over the past few
years, Cochran had overcome her battle
with depression, working with a physician
to wean herself off medication. She’d been
making healthy changes in her life, shedding
53 pounds and had started training for
marathons. “I believed that all this change
was part of something bigger.”


Cochran texted Cicala, badgering him
for the name of the local transplant coordinator.
He gave her the information, but
still was resisting the idea. In September,
Cochran was in the Northeast for a business
class, so she swung through Baltimore to
meet with the transplant coordinator, have
tests performed and be interviewed by the
surgeons. Still unsure about the idea, Cicala
finally conceded when the transplant coordinator
convinced him to take the gift
being offered.

April is Organ Donation Awareness Month. To find out more about organ donation, visit organdonor.gov where you can connect to your local organization and register to become a donor.

“Not only was Lisa a match, she was
a good match,” says Cicala. “I’m a giver,
so I’m not used to being on the receiving
end, and Lisa’s generosity was overwhelming
to me. But the coordinator helped me
see things differently, and she told me that
often living donors get even more out of
the experience than the recipients.”


“Up until that point, our relationship
was more on a business level—I could have
told you about Domenic’s business plan but
I didn’t know the names of his children,”
laughed Cochran. “I knew how private
Domenic was, but when we decided to do
the transplant, I told him that we needed
to inform the SOS group.”


The Gathering


With the procedure slated for November,
the SOS members kicked it into high gear,
each drawing on their strengths and helping
the best they could.


Sam Johnston, who owns ABQ Hair
Studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, donated
her accumulated frequent-flyer points
to Cochran, so her husband and daughter
could fly to Baltimore with her. Jeanne
Lennon, who owns Lennonheads Salon
and Spa in Worthington and Columbus,
Ohio, donated her Hilton reward points for
the family’s stay. Loboda took Cochran’s
daughter site-seeing during the procedure
and Rowena Yeager, who owns Studio Wish
Salon in Twinsburg, Ohio, kept everyone
in the waiting room, including Cochran’s
husband, comfortable with blankets, pillows
and prayers. Sarah McGee, who owns
Visual Changes Salon & Spa in Ellicot City,
Maryland, was the communicator, posting
status updates on Facebook and calling
Cochran’s parents with news.

The Ultimate Gift
Members of the Salon Owner Swap gather at Serious Business 2011 in New Orleans.
Bottom row from left: Jeanne Lennon, Matthew Fairfax (owner of James Alan Salon
in Shoreline, Washington), Rowena Yeager, Melanie Loboda and Lisa Cochran. Top
row, from left: Sarah McGee, Sam Johnston, Suzan Stiers (owner of Premier Salon
Concept in Dublin, Ohio) and Domenic Cicala.



“They are a remarkable group of people—
they left their businesses for more than a
week to be here and support us,” says Cicala.
Deciding he needed to do something to give
back, Cicala organized a fundraiser the night
before the surgery to raise awareness and
money for organ donation. A member of a
band, Cicala also wrote a song for Lisa, and
performed it at the fundraiser.


“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,”
he says. “Songwriting is intensely personal
anyway, but this ramped it up 10,000 percent.
There’s not enough time and opportunity
to thank someone for something like this.
It’s hard enough when it’s a relative, but
when a friend steps up out of nowhere …
until that night I hadn’t been able to sing
the song in private without choking up.”


As for the procedure, both Cicala and
Cochran sailed through it. “Everything about
it was not what I expected,” says Cicala,
whose mother passed away following a
transplant. “I was up clowning around the
following day, and back in the salon five
days later—basically the group was there
to sit on me and keep me in check.”


When you ask Cochran how she did
through the procedure, she laughs, “I had
my hair and make-up done the next morning.
But I was walking 40 minutes after the
surgery and I walked down the hall, dragging
the IV pole with the drip in my arm,
to visit Domenic. He turned toward me and
immediately you could see his rosy cheeks,
the life was coming back to him.”


“To have shared in this experience took
our group to a whole new level,” says
Johnston. “Next to the birth of my own
kids, this is right up there on the top of the
list of significant events in my life. I am
honored to have been part of the journey.”


Yeager concurs, “Lisa is the most humble,
dynamic, selfless person I know. She is
an angel on Earth and has already received
her wings. I love both Lisa and Domenic so
much, and feel blessed to have supported
them on this second walk of life.”


Cochran wraps up the whole experience
by saying, “It’s simply the most joyful thing
I’ve ever been part of.”

Lisa’s Song

By Domenic Cicala

 

I don’t believe in angels

Though I believe some do

In my desperate hour

Your light came shining through

 

I don’t believe in Heaven

But I do believe in grace

I was looking for a chance

When I found it in your face

 

(Chorus)

I don’t believe in miracles

I don’t believe in signs

I believe in the acts of love

From the hearts of those so kind

 

I don’t believe in sins forgiven

I think I’ve had too many

But it seems when you look at me

You weren’t finding any

I always did believe in truth

Though it hurt me once or twice

I now believe I found the light

In your love and sacrifice

 

I don’t believe in angels

But I do believe in you

There were things I only hoped for

Now they have come true