NEW LONDON -- Ever since they were little girls, Staci Gjerde and Naomi Powers-Baker have looked out for each other.
They've been "family friends forever," said Powers-Baker.
The 1983 graduates of New London-Spicer High School were also part of a small, tight-knit class that has continued to be close through the years.
Now 46 years old, Gjerde needs her friends and her classmates more than ever.
In January she found out she needs a kidney transplant. It's her job to find a donor.
Uncomfortable with the idea of asking someone to consider being a donor, she sought the help of Powers-Baker who promised to "spread the word like gossip," Gjerde said.
Since then, Powers-Baker has been leading the charge to get the word out that Gjerde is in need of a kidney.
Through emails, phone calls and Facebook posts to the "Class of '83," Powers-Baker is asking classmates with Type O blood to consider donating one of their kidneys to Gjerde.
"The first step, if you are willing to be a possible donor for Staci, is to have type O blood," reads a recent email Powers-Baker sent.
"If you have type O blood and are willing to take the next step, you may call 612-672-7270 ext. 1. This call will be totally confidential. Patients are not told of any calls."
Powers-Baker also asked the email recipients to pass the message on.
"The more we can spread the word, the better the chances are at finding a match," she wrote.
"Overwhelming," is how Gjerde describes the outpouring of calls and prayers and the willingness of her classmates and others to even consider being a donor.
"It's a great feeling," said Gjerde, who now lives in Eden Prairie. "I'm grateful to come from a good community."
"I hope we can make a difference," said Powers-Baker, who teaches choral music at NLS High School in New London and has been by Gjerde's side through decades of a kidney disease that also has affected members of Gjerde's family.
When she was 29, Gjerde found out she had inherited a family disease that struck her mother and three of her four siblings.
Her mother, who has since died, and a brother and a sister all had kidney transplants to replace their own diseased kidneys that had deteriorated with polycystic tumors. The non-cancerous, water-filled tumors can mean the need for dialysis and eventually can lead to the shutdown of the kidneys.
Two of her siblings -- a sister who had a transplant 15 years ago and a brother who went through the procedure a year ago -- are now doing well and lead normal lives. Another sibling has the disease but does not need a transplant at this point.
The tumors do not invade a new healthy kidney, said Gjerde, who has been warned that if a transplant is not completed by May, she will have to start dialysis. Her kidney is currently functioning at 10 percent, but otherwise she is healthy.
Because of the demand for kidney transplants, waiting for a cadaver donor can take five years, she said.
"It's just a waiting game for me now to see if I get a match," said Gjerde, adding that she doesn't "want anyone to feel obligated to call (the confidential donor telephone number) just because they know me."
Even though the laparoscopic surgery now used to remove a live donor kidney has made the process less physically taxing than in the past, Gjerde said it's a "huge sacrifice for somebody to make."
In the meantime, Gjerde is getting calls of support from her hometown friends and classmates.
"Tell them I feel the prayers," she said. "It's very important the town knows how grateful I am."
For more information about being a live kidney donor, contact the University of Minnesota, Fairview Health Services at 612-672-7270, ext. 1.