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Courage among comrades

The Quade and Matejka families have crossed paths several times. Both lived in the Evergreen/Toad Lake area with the Matejkas settling in around the time the Quades were leaving. Larry Quade and Curt Matejka both served in the military during the Viet Nam War. Larry and Curt are members of the Frazee VFW Post 7702.

Both men had shown courage in their military careers; Larry as a member of the Navy Seabees and Curt flying reconnaissance missions for the Army. During a VFW meeting on the third Monday of October 2007, that courage surfaced again. With tears in his eyes, Larry made a plea of help for two of his four daughters.

Sandy and Jessie Quade were both on dialysis and both in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Both women's kidney disease had unrelated causes, there was no genetic link, and their other two sisters had full kidney function.

Jessie, who lives in Moorhead, was a transplant recipient eight years ago. The kidney that was donated by an aunt was later rejected.

Three years after Jessie's surgery Sandy was diagnosed with nephritis, had her name added to the kidney transplant list and began dialysis. For two years she got up before dawn three days a week and went to MeritCare Fargo for dialysis. Dialysis treatments usually last four hours. Patients are on severely restricted diets. Larry suggests that if anyone needs an incentive to consider becoming a living kidney donor, a visit to a dialysis unit is in order.

Several Frazee VFW members showed courage by coming forward to find out about possible donation. Curt Matejka began his first round of testing in mid-December. According to Curt, his tests revealed he was "about as close to a perfect match as could be without being related." His testing continued every week. He jokingly refers to the lab technicians as "vampires" and says it seemed as if he had "18 million blood tests." Much of the blood work was done in Perham with renal and CAT scans being performed in Fargo.

Sandy says she was told on Feb. 9 that someone had been testing for a possible match to her. Just four days later she was told to prepare to receive a new kidney by the end of the month. The donation could have been handled anonymously, but Larry set up a meeting between Sandy and Curt. The two talked on the phone and then about two weeks before their surgery, they met - of course at the Frazee VFW.

The meeting began with a hug and neither remembers much talk about the upcoming surgery. Sandy says they mostly talked about their dogs. Curt describes himself as the quiet, shy one and Sandy as talkative and outgoing.

On Feb. 26, the paths of the Quade and Matejka families not only crossed one more time, but became literally stitched together. With Curt's final testing completed, surgery began to remove, cleanse, and transplant one of his kidneys. He remembers the clock at a few minutes past eight a.m. and not again until 11:35 a.m. Sandy's surgery began at 11:30 a.m. Three hours later, Curt's donated kidney was functioning in her body.

Curt was able to walk down the hall later that day to check on Sandy. He says the first thing he noticed was the return of color to her face - then the smile and energy. She called him the following day to let him know everything was OK. Curt left the hospital just three days after the surgery. Sandy says she was walking around the day after surgery and was only in the hospital for six days.

Curt returned to work on a limited basis within weeks of the surgery. He needs to be careful with lifting, turning and twisting, but has no dietary restrictions. He should be fully recovered within three months from the operation. He is now back to work full time as a master electrician at JC Electric in Perham. He says his bosses there, Craig Peterson and Bob Kalina, have been "super".

Sandy says she sometimes feels as if she lives at MeritCare. She sees her physician every-other week. Right now she has blood work once a week; at six months the tests go to monthly and then taper off. Those blood tests found early signs of rejection the week after her surgery, but a change in medication quickly resolved the issue. Sandy will be taking three prescription medications for the rest of her life. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, anti-rejection/ immune-suppressant medications cost an average of $2,500 per month.

Curt says he has always had his organ donor card filled out and "unless something said I couldn't, I was going to do this." Even though he could have backed out at any point right up to the surgery, he says he was "never at a point where I'd say 'no, I'm not doing it'." He describes his part in the transplant as a wonderful experience; "something I'll always remember. I wish more people would check into it. Helping somebody is tremendously easy to do."

Larry also encourages people to check out the possibility of becoming a living donor; to just get the information and see what is involved. "These things can make such a difference in someone's life. It's a small price to pay for doing a big thing."

Sandy learned from her little sister Jessie about kidney disease, dialysis, and transplant surgery. She says she "learned to cope with whatever was thrown at her." She knew it "was either going to go one of two ways." She was never afraid, she put everything in perspective, made peace, and knew she was moving forward.

According to TransplantLiving, there are emotional costs for those waiting for a donor. "Waiting for a transplant is a difficult experience for patients and their families. That's because it may be long and stressful because of the uncertainties about whether and when a suitable donor organ will become available. In addition, facing the reality of a serious illness, fearing what is involved and dealing with complex medical information can seem overwhelming."

For people on dialysis and on the transplant waiting list, Sandy advises, "Hang in there; keep your hopes up; stay strong." About people who think they may want to become a living donor she says, "It's a chance for them to give a gift of life to someone."

Less than a month after their transplant surgery, Curt Matejka and Sandy Quade met again at the Frazee VFW Post 7702.  Sandy says she felt like a new person and Curt was rewarded to see the change in her.  Every year on Feb. 26, the two will meet to share a meal and celebrate their stitched together paths.

Meanwhile, Jessie Quade courageously goes to dialysis treatments and waits for the donor who will be the right match for her.

Larry Quade and Curt Matejka may be reached by contacting the VFW Post 7702 at 218-334-5251.

Living donor info:

Individuals considered for living donation are usually between 18 and 60 years of age. Gender, race, age, income, or celebrity status are not factors in determining a successful match.

All potential donors must be genuinely willing to donate, physically fit, in good general health; and free from diabetes, cancer, kidney disease and heart disease.

Living donors include siblings, parents, adult children, spouses, cousins, aunts and uncles, close friends and anonymous good Samaritans.

Although transplantation is highly successful, complications for the donor and recipient can arise.

Living donation does not change life expectancy for the donor. For more complete information, visit or contact:

United Network for Organ Sharing - 888-894-6361

MeritCare Transplant Office - 800-437-4010, ext. 6715.

Organ transplant facts:

-Each day, about 77 people receive organ transplants. However, 19 people die each day waiting for transplants that can't take place because of the shortage of donated organs.

-More than 2,500 people on the transplant list live in the upper Midwest.

-A new name is added to the transplant waiting list every 13 minutes.

-As of March 31, 2008 98,634 people were on the national waiting list for an organ transplant.

-44 percent of transplanted organs are from living donors.

-Organs supplied by living donors may include kidney, liver segment, lung lobe, intestine portion, and pancreas portion.

-Kidneys are the most common organ donated by living donors.

-The first successful living donor transplant was performed between 23-year-old identical twins in 1954. Doctor Joseph E. Murray and associates at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women's Hospital) in Boston, Massachusetts, transplanted a healthy kidney from Ronald Herrick into his twin brother, Richard, who had chronic kidney failure. Richard went on to live an active, normal life, dying eight years later from causes unrelated to the transplant. Still alive over fifty years since the transplant, Ronald is a retired math teacher from Maine.

-For the recipient, costs in the first year following a kidney transplant average $226,400. The cost of anti-rejection medications is about $2,500 per month.

-A donor's medical costs and required postoperative care are usually covered by the recipient's insurance.

-Living donors may receive state and federal tax deductions for their expenses.

-In the United States there are about 6,500 living kidney donors each year.

-Fargo MeritCare has performed 500 kidney transplants since the beginning of their program in 1989.