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A match in more ways than one: Couple share their life and kidneys

Kristi and Ryan Fabre just before surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Ryan donated his kidney to Kristi. Special to The Forum

On their 2008 wedding day, Kristi Nelson slipped a gold ring on Ryan Fabre's finger and gave him her heart forever. For Valentine's Day, Ryan may have trumped that gift; he gave her his kidney.

On Feb. 22, just one day before her 27th birthday, Ryan and Kristi Fabre underwent transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

At age 6, Kristi was diagnosed with end stage renal failure due to E. coli poisoning. When she was 10, she received her first transplant, a donation from her father, Kevin Nelson.

For about 16 years, the kidney worked well, but function began to slowly decline.

"Ever since I got the first kidney until now, there has been a really, really slow decline in function. In the last year, it took a big drop," Kristi Fabre said.

Kristi's family again stepped up to the plate, ready to donate a kidney to her. Her mother, Nancy Nelson, was found to be a match but had an artery problem that prevented the donation.

"Her mom really wanted to do it, which was understandable," Ryan said.

Her brother was thought to be a match, but it was found his blood would not interact well with Kristi's. Her sister was unable to donate due to pregnancy.

It was then, in November, that Ryan decided he would be tested.

Kristi said while waiting for the test results, she just had a feeling Ryan was going to be her donor.

He was a perfect match.

A few months later, the man who had never been in a hospital, never had surgery, was being wheeled into the operating room alongside his bride of two years.

"I wasn't nervous for me. I was more worried about him having to go through all this," Kristi said. A few short hours later, Ryan was out of surgery and doing well. He was released two days later. Kristi remained in the hospital about a week but was discharged last Sunday. So far, the kidney is working well in Kristi. She will remain in Rochester until about the end of March as she visits the hospital for daily tests. Ryan also said he is feeling good post-surgery.

Ryan admits his parents, Mark and Betty Fabre, worried for their son undergoing surgery, but his family fully backed his decision.

The Glyndon, Minn., couple were high school sweethearts.

"We started dating when I was a junior and he was a senior in high school, and we've never been apart," Kristi said.

Kristi is now a nurse at Sanford in Fargo while Ryan farms with his father near Glyndon.

Ryan said he knew what he was getting into when it came to Kristi's health, although he was rarely reminded she was, or could be, sick.

"It never really seemed like she was sick. She puts it off pretty well as if nothing is wrong with her," Ryan said. "She's always been a spitfire, I guess. She's stubborn I'll tell you that."

The couple's hometown is also standing behind the two. A spaghetti-feed benefit has been planned for April 3 by the Dilworth Loco Ladies Lions at the Dilworth Community Center.

The two are looking forward to a future together that includes children, which doctors say Kristi will be able to have.

"It's funny how things work out in so many ways," Kristi said.

If you go

What: Spaghetti-feed benefit for Ryan and Kristi Fabre

When: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. April 3

Where: Dilworth Community Center

Info: Dilworth Lions will be cooking. Freewill donations accepted. A raffle will also be held. The grand prize is four Twins v. Los Angeles Angels tickets for May 28. Second prize is $200. Tickets are available from the Dilworth Loco Ladies Lions club. Need not be present to win.

How to help: Kristi and Ryan Fabre Benefit Fund is set up at Northwestern State Bank, 4 N. Main, Dilworth, MN 56529 or online at

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530