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Stepping to the plate for a friend

By Ed DuBois

After clinging to life through dialysis, Dave Watkins was more than ready for kidney transplant surgery last week. "I'm ready yesterday!" he declared during an interview three weeks ago. He said dialysis had been very hard on him. "A four-hour treatment is like running a 48-mile marathon. I feel totally drained afterward," he explained. The likelihood of finding a kidney donor was not good. He was told he might have to wait 7-10 years to find a donor, and that's "if" one is found at all.

Stepped to the plate

But a donor was found, and he was found in a pleasantly surprising way. Dave is a baseball umpire, and he has met many people and developed friendships through baseball officiating. One friend, fellow umpire Nathan Gabrekcik, stepped to the plate when he learned Watkins needed a kidney. Nate learned about the need one day last August when he saw a Facebook post about Dave's search for a donor. It turned out that both Nate and Dave have the same blood type, 0 negative, which is the most rare blood type. Twelve hours of testing at the University of Minnesota showed "everything was perfect" for Nate to donate one of his healthy kidneys to Dave.

Couldn't let him die

Nate is 24 and lives in Hanover. Dave is 57 and lives in Cottage Grove. What inspired Nate to decide to give one of his kidneys to Dave? "He is a good friend," Nate said. "He has a couple of daughters (and grandchildren). I thought if there was something I could do about it, I couldn't let him pass away." As preparations for transplant surgery were underway, the dialysis sessions continued to keep Dave alive by cleaning toxicity from his blood, a function that kidneys perform in all of us. However, Dave's kidneys had failed. He mentioned the toxicity level in his blood had been so high at times, he felt ill and couldn't keep food down. He also commented that after dialysis, he drank Gatorade for the electrolytes, "But pretty soon I couldn't keep that down either."

Blessing from God

Dave needed about $1,500 a month in medications, and the dialysis sessions cost approximately $4,000 each, he said. His outlook was beginning to diminish. But then Nate volunteered to be tested. "I give it all to the Lord. He brought us together," said Dave. "It was like a miracle. I couldn't believe it," he added. "It was a blessing from God." "It's not that easy to find a match," Dave mentioned. "0 negative blood is very rare."

Strong, healthy kidney

Dave's time was running out. "If this hadn't happened, I am not sure I would last much longer," he said. "You don't realize what you've got until something like this happens. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy." For a successful transplant, the donated kidney must be healthy and strong enough to perform extra work, Dave and Nate explained. It must be able to do the work of two kidneys. Likewise, the kidney that remains in the donor must be able to perform extra work.

Only one with blue eyes

Dave's kidney failure was hereditary, he learned. "I found out at age 23 that I was adopted," Dave said. "I was the only one in the family with blue eyes," he added with a big smile. He found his natural mother just two years ago. She was living just thirty miles away from where he was living. "I knew who you were when you got out of your car," his mother said. Dave learned his brother also has kidney problems.

Moved to Minnesota

Originally from Florida, Dave moved to Minnesota in 2009 upon getting married. He had met his future wife while she was visiting Florida from Minnesota. Dave was pleased to learn the doctors at the University of Minnesota have a near perfect success rate with kidney transplants. His wife is working at home while he recovers from surgery. Dave and his wife had been waiting a long time with hope of finding a donor. "When I told my wife (about Nate and the successful testing), she started crying," Dave recalled.

Go Fund Me

A Go Fund Me page online is helping both Dave and Nate financially. Dave worked 30 years for the U.S. Department of Defense as a helicopter mechanic and hasn't been able to work for a long time. Nate works at HOM Furniture in Coon Rapids and is missing work (about 8-10 weeks) while recovering from the transplant surgery. The Go Fund Me page, "David's Kidney Transplant," recently showed donations had reached $10,345 of a $14,000 goal.

Successful surgery

The transplant surgery was performed on April 4. Contacted the next day, Nate's mom was in his hospital room as he slept. She said the surgery was a success. She said the surgery was rough on both Nate and Dave, but she reported Dave commented that he was feeling great compared to before the operation. He was more than ready for it. "I was ready yesterday," he said weeks ago.


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