Organ donation offers brother a second chance at life

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13 2014 7:15 p.m. MST

Brothers Dale, left, and Duane Woolsey talk about Duane donating a kidney to Dale last year at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. Intermountain's Transplant Program had a record-breaking year for organ transplants in 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Brothers Dale and Duane Woolsey have always been close.

In high school, they both wrestled at 155 pounds.

"(Dale) knew that if he came down and bumped me out of my weight, I was going to wrestle JV my senior year," Duane, 53, said of his 51-year-old brother.

Dale took water pills to cut his weight and wrestle at 138. He seized on the mat, causing damage to his kidneys that began to fail.

Today, Duane said he and Dale are just as close as before, even after he gave his brother his kidney. They stood side by side Thursday, arms draped on the other's shoulders, at the Intermountain Medical Center to celebrate with other organ donors and recipients.

The center had a record-breaking year in 2013 for organ transplants. There were 109 kidney transplants, up from 73 in 2012, hospital officials said.

"He downplayed it pretty well," Duane said of his brother's kidney's decline.

Dale was able to make it to almost 50 years old before he needed a transplant and went on dialysis for seven months.

"I couldn't ride horses like I wanted to," Dale said.

Finally, Duane told his brother, "Just let me give you a kidney."

Dr. Willem Van der Werf, chief of the division of transplant at Intermountain Medical Center, said the center does more than 150 transplants a year.

"Behind every patient that is here is either a donor family who went through a grieving process and made that difficult decision to donate," Van der Werf said, "or there's a living donor who, through their generosity, underwent a risky operation and donated."

Dale said he was hesitant to let his brother donate a kidney to him and put himself at risk. The two had a conversation about what would happen if the roles were reversed.

Dale shrugged as he recalled the decision-making conversation, while tears swelled in Duane's eyes.

"You got to do what you got to do, huh?" Dale said.

In Utah, 72 percent of the population is registered as organ donors, said Alex McDonald, spokesman for Intermountain Donor Services, the organ procurement agency for Utah and southern Idaho.

The program recovered 314 transplantable organs in 2013 and had 98 donors in Utah and southern Idaho.

"It really shows, I think, the generosity of the people of Utah and southern Idaho, and the willingness to say yes to help save other lives, their neighbors' lives," McDonald said.

One nurse at the medical center donated her kidney to a neighbor. Debbie Beck works on the transplant floor and recognized a neighbor who came in for a transplant, but the procured kidney wasn't a good match.

"I kept thinking, 'I wouldn't mind donating my kidney to him,'" Beck said.

A few months later, she did.

"I think because he's a neighbor," Beck said. "You have such a better chance if it's a living donor, and I just wanted him to have the best chance he could have. I really like his family. He's got a bunch of grandkids like I do."

Beck, who often sees her neighbor riding his recumbent bicycle down the street, said she was inspired to give her kidney.

"I felt guided by the Lord to do that," she said. "Lots of people do it, so I didn't feel any different than lots of other donors. It was a good experience."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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