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Kidney’s longevity is a cause for celebration

Darla Lidke will celebrate the 40th anniversary of her kidney transplant June 19. Darla received a kidney from her father, Norman.

When Darla Lidke was 13 years-old, life was miserable and it seemed unlikely she would graduate high school much less college.

A kidney transplant changed her life and as she looks to celebrate 40 years as a transplant survivor, Darla marvels at the life she’s led.

“It’s a miracle because I didn’t think I’d graduate high school and now I’m 53,” she said.

Her life since receiving the transplant has been full. She went to college and received a teaching degree. Darla teaches reading at Rahn Elementary School in Eagan. In her spare time she attends church, volunteers and enjoys the gift of life that God has granted her.

The disease

Darla suffered from a kidney disease called Medullarais cystic. From the time she was a young child Darla was small, pale and had low energy. Darla’s father, Norman, said at first doctors thought she was anemic. But when treatments failed, doctors decided to conduct a kidney probe.

The probe showed that Darla had less than 20 percent usage from her kidneys. Doctors told Norman and his wife Elaine that if nothing was done, Darla only had six month to a year to live.

“We were scared parents,” said Norman.

The family was referred to the University of Minnesota Hospital. Darla was put on a low-protein diet for several years to make things easier on her kidneys. She also had to drink a high calorie whey-milk shake, to help her gain weight.

“It tasted awful,” said Darla.

At 13, the effects of the disease came to a head. Darla was nauseated all the time and something had to be done. While still a relatively new procedure, a transplant was the only option left.

On June 19, 1974, Darla received a kidney transplant. Norman donated the kidney.

“I told her the kidney was a gift with no strings attached,” said Norman.

Norman said he believes Darla is in the top 10 in Minnesota for length of keeping a kidney transplant.

While they are not certain, Norman believes Darla’s disease was inherited. He said other members of their family had died of kidney failure.

The transplant

Norman went into surgery about an hour before Darla. The procedure to take his kidney took about an hour and left him with a sizeable scar on his left side. He then had to stay in the hospital for five days.

Doctors decided to leave Darla’s failing kidneys alone and place the new kidney towards the center of her body. She has a large scar up her abdomen.

At the time kidney transplants were still a fairly new procedure, so Norman said they didn’t know what to expect. The outcome, though, has been everything they hoped for.

“It’s amazing,” said Darla.

“We both feel blessed to have lived this long,” added Norman.

While still in the hospital, Norman said the nurses impressed upon Darla how it important it was for her to take her immunosuppressant drugs. Specifically, the nurses told Darla that the responsibility was hers and hers alone.

“We never had to tell her when to take her medications,” said Norman.

While Darla is grateful for the chance at life, the transplant did not come without its consequences. Even though Darla is on a very low dosage of the immunosuppressant drugs, the drugs have taken their toll. They have softened her bones, which has led to Darla having both hips and a shoulder replaced.

Darla continues to see a nephrologist every six months for check-ups.

A special bond

Every month on the 19th, either Darla or Norman will mention the date. Norman said the reminder each month of the miracle is something special the two share.

Norman said he didn’t have to think twice whether to donate the kidney. It was his way of showing the unconditional love a parent has for a child.

The ordeal also created a bond between the Lidke family and their community. Norman is a retired Methodist pastor. Darla said throughout her illness and her transplant she had people praying for her.

Organ donation

While Darla was fortunate to have a member of her family that could donate, Norman said others do not.

It’s not a fun topic, but Norman said organ donation saves lives. He encouraged people to have discussions with their loved ones about organ donation, to put it on their driver’s license and to fill out organ donation cards with their wishes on it.

A celebration

A party will be held to celebrate 40 years with the kidney will be held from 1:30 to 4 p.m. June 14 at Rosemount United Methodist Church.

If his health is good the doctor who performed Darla’s transplant, John Najarian, will speak. Najarian is in his late 80s but they’re hopeful he will be able to attend.

The event is open to anyone in the community.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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