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Blue Jackets reporter finds life-saving transplant donor on the team he covers


COLUMBUS, Ohio — From day one of the Blue Jackets, Aaron Portzline has been there writing and reporting: first with the Columbus Dispatch and for the past six years as part of The Athletic.

So as a hockey writer, Porty, as he’s affectionately called, has seen plenty of fights in those 23 seasons; but this season, he’s been in his own fight battling kidney failure.

“My mom has had a kidney transplant, my brother has had a kidney transplant so I’m familiar with the process,” Porty said and then shared he’s been getting dialysis multiple times a week since August.

“So I’ve been going in at 5 a.m. to get out of the chair by 9, because the Blue Jackets are on the ice at 10, 10:30,” he said with a chuckle.

In October, Porty put a post on social media that began with four simple words: “I am not well.” He then went on to tell the chapter of his story that he was in kidney failure and he quickly turned the page and the focus away from himself and towards others.

“I’ve always been trained to not be the story and so we’ve tried to keep this toward encouraging people to donate,” he said. “It’s one of the few things we agree on right now in society is that organ donation is a good thing but you have to express that. It has to be on your driver’s license, in your will: some way that makes it known.”

The outpouring of support was immediate and immense. Porty said he was fortunate to have may friends step up and go through the process to see if they could be his donor. A couple even made it to the final testing stage; but then, sadly, were ruled out.

“I was kind of in a dark place after I heard,” Portzline said, “because dialysis is not fun.”

The thing is, Porty had no idea that someone he saw every day behind the scenes with the Blue Jackets was also working behind the scenes in the donor testing process.

Lindy Noel with the Blue Jackets communications team had been one of many to see Porty’s social media post and she responded by writing, “Porty, I’m so sorry to read this. I will do whatever I can to help. Your CBJ family is here for you!”

That help began with filling out the donation questionnaire.

“I lost my father in 2018 to cancer,” Lindy explained through tears. “There was no donation that could save his life. So this felt like something I could do to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

A questionnaire led to lab work which then led to tests, and in March, Lindy got the news: She was a match for Aaron Portzline.

Lindy knew she wanted to have a video of her telling Porty the good news, so a few weeks later, she invited Porty to Nationwide Arena under the guise of an interview about organ donation and the support he’s received from the 5th Line.

In the interview, Porty said, “There is a match. I don’t know who the match is. I’m hoping to find out sometime this week.”

Lindy replied, “I’m glad that you mentioned that you don’t know who the donor is, because that’s actually the real reason why you’re here.”

“I wondered if there was something afoot,” Portzline said with a wry smile.

Lindy paused, smiled, and said, “I am your donor.”

“No way. No way!” Porty exclaimed as he reached for and grabbed Lindy’s hand.

And for a man who works in words, Porty found himself without many.

“I think our language is limited. It doesn’t seem like ‘thank you’ is enough,” he shared with NBC4 the day before the surgery sitting next to Lindy. “This team has always sort of transcended wins and losses is what I would say.”

“It’s doing what I would hope someone else would do for me,” Lindy said. “The sense of family the hockey community has — Porty is family. He may write for The Athletic, and he can write some nasty things about the team if he wants to!”

“Critiques!” Porty said with a laugh.

“He can write some critiques if he wants to,” Lindy said with a smile and eyeroll, “But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s family.”

Lindy’s family lives in Illinois, but since coming to Columbus three years ago to join the Blue Jackets team she has made another family with her fiancée, Chris, and now with the Portzlines – who will absolutely be at the wedding in June 2025.

“I keep thinking what’s the appropriate wedding gift for someone who gave you a kidney?” Porty said. “It’s not on any registry anywhere! Thanks to you and thanks to everybody who is willing to do this. It’s incredible. It’s a lifesaver.”