SWANTON — Amanda Conger’s speed and grace on the ice, coupled with her power and drive, made her a formidable opponent and an asset to the Thunderbirds’ varsity hockey team.
Conger, in her senior year at St. Anslem College, still plays the game she loves, but she’s also got other things on her mind.
“I remember coming to St. Anslem as a freshman; I knew it was going to be a lot balancing with hockey and school. It’s gone by so fast, and I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
Conger played for MAHA in her youth hockey years and went on to play at MVU with a post-grad year at Rice.
“I was pretty fortunate because I was able to play at MVU and enjoy the hometown crowd,” said Conger.
Conger recounted one of the games that stood out to her from her high school career.
“My freshman year, we played BFA St. Albans at BFA. I scored against our big rival, and I was extremely happy about that,” said Conger. “It was their Pink in the Rink game, and there were a lot of people there!”
Conger, a standout high school athlete, recalled her first year on the St. Anselm hockey team.
“It was extremely intimidating as a freshman! My first collegiate game I didn’t dress,” said Conger. “I used that opportunity to ask my coach what I needed to do to get my name on the lineup.
“She told me what she was looking for, and I worked at it. I’ve dressed in every game since. When you get to college you start at the bottom, watch the others, and learn the system.”
In her junior and senior years, Conger was named a team captain.
“The culture of our team is big on accountability. Our coach holds us accountable, but the captains also hold players accountable.”
“On game days, it’s my role to keep the bench positive, cheering and active,” said Conger.
As with many high school athletes, Conger’s success was marred by injury.
“When I tore my ACL at MVU, that made me think,” said Conger. “Now I play every game as if it’s my last.’
Through it all, she’s enjoyed tremendous support from her family.
“My family doesn’t miss a game,” said Conger, “and my brother Matt has been a huge role model of mine. I looked up to him as a MAHA rugrat, which built me into a hockey player.”
Conger, a Communications Major, and her brother also share another bond.
On June 11, 2019, Conger donated one of her kidneys to a young man in need.
“My brother was my motivation,” said Conger. “A year before, he donated bone marrow. I thought it was incredible that he could be part of saving someone’s life.”
Conger spent the last two summers as a communications intern at the Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre. It was there that she heard about Cameron Oullette, a 23-year-old driver who needed a kidney transplant.
“I saw a post on Facebook letting people know that if they were interested in becoming a kidney donor they could request a donor packet.”
Always eager to help others, Conger’s first thought was, “I think it’s my duty as a human that I should fill out a packet and say that I tired.”
Three weeks later, while she was in Minnesota with the St. Anslem hockey team, Conger received a call letting her know she’d been selected to move forward in the process.
The UVM Medical Center sent another packet to Conger to test her blood for a match; the results returned favorably.
“Things got serious!” said Conger. “I was number two on the list to donate. At the end of February, I met with the transplant team to make sure I was a good candidate.”
More tests were done the following day, and Conger had a head to toe health evaluation.
“I didn’t realize that there were so many little things that can deter you from donating,” said Conger. “I got the results a week later, and it was the best news! I was a perfect match and the number one donor.”
Conger met with the chief transplant surgeon Dr. Carlos Narroquin who told her she would have to wait three months before she could donate.
“Since I was under 24, they wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and that I had no pressure to go through with it if I changed my mind.”
“During that time I told my coach, my friends, and my family,” said Conger, “but I wanted to remain completely anonymous from Cameron in case something fell through.”
On June 1st, the waiting period was over. Conger met with Dr. Narroquin and told him she was ready.
“I had a gut feeling that I was going to be Cameron’s donor when I started the process.”
The surgery date was set for June 11th, and Conger, who was working at Thunder Road at the time, remained anonymous.
“Cameron couldn’t race, but he’d go and watch the others,” said Conger. “I remember putting a wrist band on him when he came to the track. I knew him, but he didn’t know anything about me.
“When I’d see his dad at the track, he was so excited they’d found a donor, but he didn’t know it was me either.”
The Friday before the surgery Conger decided to tell Cameron she was going to be his donor. She enlisted the help of Thunder Road’s owner, Cris Michaud.
“Cris walked me over to Cameron’s trailer, and told Cameron I was his donor,” said Conger. “I started crying because I was so happy.”
“His family was so thankful. There was a lot of hugging, and they thanked my parents for raising me as they did.”
Today, both Conger and Oullette are doing well and still communicate with each other. Conger was able to return to St. Anslem and rejoin the hockey team this fall.
“I’m a huge advocate for organ donation,” said Conger.” My situation was easier in that I didn’t have a full-time job that I’d have to balance during recovery. I could rest at home where my family looked after me.”
“Here I am, completely normal and playing hockey at a collegiate level. It is a big deal, but I want to advocate for donor awareness. It was a small sacrifice for someone else’s life.”
When asked if she ever thought she’d be an organ donor, Conger smiled.
“I don’t know if I thought I’d do something like this when I was younger, but I did think I’d be the kind of person that would try.”
People have asked her if she is worried she might need her kidney later.
“This is God’s path for me right now. I can’t think about the ‘what if’s’ in the future if I can help someone right now,” said Conger. “When people ask me why I did it, I tell them that, for me, it was the right thing to do.”
Conger will play her final year of collegiate hockey with St. Anselm this year, and she couldn’t be happier with how everything has turned out.
“Last February I was planning to donate a kidney, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play hockey my senior year,” said Conger. “I played in the semifinals and finals last year as if they were my last games, and I scored the game-winning goals. Those were proud moments.”
“I have been trying to live my life to the fullest. I’ve seen someone so close to death, and it’s made me think about how fortunate we are for every day.”