Two sisters give life to brother: Lake Lillian man to receive second kidney transplant
WILLMAR — When he was a kid, Jim Thompson sparred plenty with his two sisters. It was a typical brother-sister relationship.
But life-giving sacrifices have changed those relationships.
In 1998 Thompson's oldest sister gave him a kidney in a transplant operation that has kept him off dialysis for 15 years.
Now Thompson's youngest sister will give him one of her kidneys in an operation scheduled for Aug. 27 that could extend his health for another decade or two.
"We've always been a close family," said Thompson, who lives in rural Lake Lillian.
When his oldest sister, Jean Gladitsch of Vesta, served as a donor in 1998, it created an even deeper bond between the two siblings.
"And there'll be a special connection with my younger sister too, but we're already close," said Thompson of his second family donor, Jan Lambert of Willmar.
Thompson said he was 33 years old when he had his first kidney transplant, which was necessitated because of recurrent "immunoglobulin A nephropathy" that may have been brought on by a virus.
Tests showed that of all of Thompson's three siblings, Gladitsch was the perfect match.
Fifteen years later, Gladitsch said she's glad her kidney gave her brother renewed life for as long as it did.
Despite being able to live a "normal" life for much of the time, Thompson said his sister's kidney has been gradually failing and is currently functioning at 7 percent of capacity.
Without another transplant, he will be forced to use dialysis.
Gladitsch laughs recalling the phone call she got about a year ago from her brother jokingly asking if she wanted to donate her other kidney.
That's when Lambert said it was her turn.
"I always knew in the back of my mind that I was next in line if it was ever going to happen," said Lambert, 45, who works as a nursing assistant at Bethesda Heritage in Willmar.
Although tests showed she was a close match to her brother, Lambert was told by doctors that before she could be a living donor she had to shed some weight.
Facing that challenge added to the shade of natural apprehension she had about undergoing the surgery. But Lambert said she lost the weight, feels fantastic and is more than ready for the transplant to take place at the end of the month.
"Because of wanting to do this for him, it gave me the drive to do it so I've managed to lose over 35 pounds," she said. "I know that I'm healthy and I'm ready to do it."
Because doctors want to avoid the risk of removing organs, Thompson will continue to carry his oldest sister's kidney, along with the new one. He also still has his own kidneys, which he said have shrunk to the size of walnuts.
"If I can keep him off dialysis for another 10 years, that would be awesome but we're hoping for another 15 at least," said Lambert.
Because of her personal investment, Gladitsch said she's teased her brother for the last 15 years to make sure he's taking his anti-rejection medications regularly.
Lambert said she intends to do the same.
"I'll just be on him all the time to take care of my kidney," Lambert said with a laugh. "I gave it to you and I can't have it back so you better take care of it."
Thompson said he's faithful about taking his medications and does his best to honor the gift one sister has already given him and the gift a second sister is about to give him.
Gladitsch said she will join her extended family in the Twin Cities on the day of the surgery.
"They were all there for me 15 years ago. I will be there for them," she said. "I am going. I have to. It's my brother. It's my sister."
The timing of the transplant is planned so that the siblings will be recuperated in time for the Oct. 12 wedding of Thompson's oldest daughter.
Thompson said he knows he'll feel better after the transplant and hopes he'll have enough energy to have a wedding dance with his daughter.
** A fund drive has been established to help raise $10,000 to offset the cost of the transplant. Donations can be made online at www.gofundme.com/33wcew.