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Friend donates kidney for transplant operation

As Sandy Schmid saw her friend suffering with kidney failure, she felt called to help.

In April, the Bemidji woman donated one of her kidneys to Scott Burgoon, a dialysis patient in the last stage of kidney failure at the time.

"I care a great deal about him," Schmid said.

Burgoon, who also lives in Bemidji, learned that he had kidney failure in 1999.

"I went to donate blood and my blood pressure was 210 over 135," he said.

After the high reading, Burgoon visited his Bemidji doctor, who recommended him to a nephrologist in St. Cloud, Minn.

"And from there, I was referred to the University of Minnesota," he said.

Burgoon, 47, was diagnosed with kidney failure and treated with medication for several years. A year ago, however, he noticed his energy level dropping and later visited a doctor.

"He said I was at Stage 6 and needed to go to dialysis at the hospital," Burgoon said.

Without dialysis, people at Stage 6, the last stage of kidney failure, typically have a short time to live, he noted.

"It's kind of scary when they start telling you you are on Stage 6," Burgoon said.

He began dialysis Dec. 16. Despite the fatiguing effects of dialysis, he continued working at his construction job with Peterson Sheet Metal in Bemidji.

"After dialysis, you're just exhausted," Burgoon said.

A friendship buds

Burgoon and Schmid met while out dancing more than a year ago and a friendship followed.

"He shared with me that he had kidney failure," Schmid said.

Schmid, who started asking Burgoon questions about his condition and researching it, said she felt the Lord leading her to donate a kidney to her friend. After much prayer, she said she felt the need to heed this prompting.

"I just look at it as God gave us two kidneys," Schmid said.

She said she felt that if she could live with one kidney, she should share her other one.

"I knew we were the same blood type," Schmid added.

"Our blood type is O," said Burgoon, adding that people with Type O blood can give blood to anyone but can only receive Type O blood.

In September, Schmid, 46, asked her doctor if she was physically capable of donating a kidney. After her doctor said she was could, she called Burgoon to tell him she wanted to be his donor.

"He was very hesitant," she said. "He didn't agree until after he started dialysis."

"For me, it's hard to receive -- not that I'm not appreciative," Burgoon said.

"He's got a big heart to give," Schmid said. "It's a gift for me to give."

In December, Schmid had blood work done to see if she would be a match as a donor.

"Within a week, I knew I was a match," she said.

She then traveled to the Twin Cities for two days of tests.

"Everything came back clear and it was a go," Schmid said.

The transplant, however, was delayed as Burgoon battled with gout, a disease that causes joints to swell.

"They wanted him to be two weeks clear of any issues," Schmid said.

Surgery day arrives

At 5:30 p.m. April 4, Schmid and Burgoon arrived at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview for the transplant.

"She went in about a half-hour before I did," Burgoon said. "The operating rooms were right next to each other."

About five hours later, Burgoon and Schmid were in the recovery room. Schmid stayed in the hospital for three days and Burgoon stayed four days.

Schmid experienced some setbacks after the surgery. She had fluid building on the right side of the incision where the surgeon removed her kidney and also battled a mild case of pneumonia. A doctor aspirated the fluid near the incision and put in a drain for two weeks to help remove the fluid.

Despite the setbacks, Schmid has since returned to work at Pat Knoer State Farm Insurance in Bemidji. Burgoon plans to return to work in about a week and a half.

"It's going really well," Burgoon said. "It's been great since I left the hospital. ... You could tell the difference."

Burgoon will have to take anti-rejection, high blood pressure and gout medication for the rest of his life.

"There's a 10 percent chance of rejection in the first six months," he said. "And, of course, the percentage goes down after that."

He said doctors hope he will get 20 years out of the kidney.

"It's just a blessing and honor to me to know Scott will have a ... better quality of life," Schmid said. "It's just a miracle that God created us with the ability to do this."

Being a living donor

Both Schmid and Burgoon said their families, friends and churches have been very supportive of them. Burgoon noted that family members and members of his church, Evangelical Covenant Church of Bemidji, also inquired about donating a kidney to him.

Schmid encourages others to become living donors.

"They can bring life to other people," she said.

Even if people can't be a living donor, Schmid hopes they will at least designate themselves as organ donors on their driver's license. By donating a kidney, Schmid said she helped Burgoon get off the cadaver donor list and move someone else up on the list.

"It gives someone else the chance to have life," she said.

Schmid is now part of a study by the University of Minnesota Renal Division on the long-term effects of being a living donor. For the next three years, she will have blood work done every six months.

"They don't have a lot of information on living donors," Schmid said. "I just felt that it was an opportunity to help in the research end of it. ... If they have good research, maybe they can recruit more living donors."