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Ottertail farmer celebrates 25 years since heart transplant

It was exactly 25 years ago that WDAY News brought the story of Ottertail dairy farmer Pete Thalmann patiently waiting for a new heart at Mayo Clinic. He waited six months there, his heart barely functioning. Time was running out until Thanksgiving in 1997, and a nearby family's unselfish gift of life.

Pete Thalmann.jpg
Ottertail dairy farmer Pete Thalmann is celebrating 25 years since receiving a heart transplant.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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OTTERTAIL, Minn. — Still living on the farm his great grandparents settled in in the 1800's just outside Ottertail, Pete Thalmann was doing morning chores on Monday, Nov. 21, getting hay to Holstein heifers.

But for Thalmann, every day is Thanksgiving Day. It all started 25 years ago this week.

"118 days (waiting) were long enough," Thalmann said.

WDAY News brought several stories about Thalmann's wait from Mayo Clinic. His heart was failing, and without a transplant, doctors said time was running out.

"About the end of October and into November, it was starting to get a little push come to shove," Thalmann said. "I had a couple of grim chances for a heart, but they didn't turn out."

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While he waited in Rochester, Thalmann, a longtime dairy farmer, had to sell his herd at the time. At home his wife and three young kids wondered if a heart would come in time.

"There was, you don't realize how many times a grown man can cry," Thalmann said about missing his family while he waited at Mayo.

But on that Thanksgiving Week of 1997, everything was about to change. Just 15 miles away from his dairy farm, a family in Perham lost their son. While an unimaginable tragedy, his heart would save Thalmann.

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Aaron Drummond was home on break from the University of North Dakota when he died unexpectedly. His family had no idea his donated heart would go to Thalmann, who lived just miles from them.

"And my donor family, the Drummonds, we did a lot of stories together and lots of things, and I haven't seen them for quite a few years, but (there's) never a day that I don't think of them," Thalmann said.

It would be a year after the transplant that he would meet the Drummonds.

"This is my mom, LaVay, this is my son Nathan," Thalmann is heard saying as the families introduced themselves to each other at a first meeting in Fargo.

Now, at 62, Thalmann's transplant from 25 years ago has allowed him to live a great life. He even beat kidney cancer two years ago.

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Now, his seven grandkids keep him busy.

"Every time one (child) graduated and then got married, (...) You know, I never thought I'd make it to 40," Thalmann said.

And never does he take for granted the incredible gift he received 25 years ago.

"You know, modern-day medicine is definitely — I wouldn't be here, let's put it that way. Life is good," Thalmann said.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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