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'Half Nelson' donates a kidney

When our first grandson, "Half Nelson" was born we made a comment here in the column so you could help us mark the passage of time. Then we commented again when his hockey team came within 48 seconds of winning the North Dakota State Hockey Championship -- again, to help us mark the passage of time. Otherwise, we've said very little.

Well, Half Nelson is old enough to vote now and he's making his own decisions, so I'll tell you about one.

In Sept., 2009, Half read an article in the New Yorker magazine titled, "The Kindest Cut," by Larissa Macfarquhar where she explored the question of what kind of person gives a kidney to a stranger. After reading the article, Half said to himself, "I should do that someday." But it was like saying, "I should take piano lessons someday or I should learn Spanish someday." It's like adding one more item to your bucket list for -- someday.

A year later, someday had cobwebs. So one day in Sept., 2010, the young man decided, "someday is now" and he called the Sanford Transplant Center, in Fargo, and started asking questions and began doing some personal research. Among the facts he discovered were that over 70,000 recipient candidates are on a national waiting list, staying alive by dialysis or other means and 19 people die every day for want of a kidney. Also that for people on dialysis, their life expectancy increases threefold if they get a kidney from a living donor.

So Half Nelson decided he wanted to donate a kidney. I told him I suspect he's doing this because he already has three. He denies it. But donating a kidney is no overnight deal. He has gone through several conferences with a "transplant coordinator" to work out a timetable, a social worker to explore his "social network" and emotional support, a nephrologist (kidney specialist), a surgeon, has had a psychological evaluation, a chest x-ray, an EKG, an MRI, blood and urine tests, has had his blood pressure monitored for a week and another blood test.

This year on July 10th he received a call from the Transplant Center: "We have a potential match." The recipient is at the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis and Half, by his own choice, will never meet the person and never know who got the kidney. He won't get a handshake, a hug or a thanks, and no pictures (except from his own family).

So tomorrow (last week by the time you read this) they will remove one of Half's kidneys in Fargo and fly it to Minneapolis for the stranger. This is called a "non-directed" kidney donation. It's not for a friend or relative, it's for whomever needs it. It is hoped the stranger will "pay forward" the gift by having some family member or friend donate a kidney for someone else. But that's not required.

In 2010 there were 6,271 kidney transplants in the U.S. and only 205 involved "non-directed" living donors. The donors don't get a dime for the kidney although they know they could sell one on the black market for a recipient in Iran or South Korea for up to $100,000.

So now we've marked the passage of time once again. Of course, we're enormously proud of Half Nelson. This is better than winning the state hockey title would have (woulda, coulda, shoulda) been. God bless the donor and the recipient.