A meaningful gift

During Spring Break most people go vacationing or simply just stay at home and rest, McNary High School Principal Erik Jespersen however, decided to donate his kidney. 

Jespersen and his family found out about a year ago that a loved one was in need of a kidney transplant, and, after multiple tests, Jespersen was a match. So instead of camping or relaxing during Spring Break, Jespersen planned to donate his left kidney. 

The recipient was the uncle of Beth Jespersen, Erik Jespersen’s wife. Beth’s uncle was born with flawed kidneys, and about 20 years ago the family was told that eventually he would have to be on dialysis (a medical process where excess fluid is removed from the blood) or get a kidney transplant. 

About a year ago, his condition got significantly worse. 

Becoming qualified to be eligible for donation is a rigorous process, and Jespersen was not the first to try to donate a kidney. It started with one of the uncle’s kids who had tried to be a donor but wasn’t able to do it. From there, Beth stepped up in the process but unfortunately wasn’t able to donate either. 

Jespersen remembered his wife’s disappointment about not being able to donate her kidney, and says that’s what inspired him to become a donor. 

“It never crossed my mind to donate a kidney until quite honestly this particular set of circumstances happened,” Jespersen said. 

In order to donate an organ, a person has to be an “ideal donor.” Before being deemed eligible, Jespersen had to go through 50 to 60 medical tests to determine if he had good kidneys and the right blood type. 

“You basically have to have perfect kidneys,” he said. 

Jespersen had to have his vitals, heart, urine, blood and “just about everything” tested. Doctors also made sure Jespersen had no kidney stones and that his kidneys were the right size. 

Jespersen says that donating an organ is a very personal decision, one that should be made by a person and their family. 

Since the donation, Beth’s uncle is doing well and is making a full recovery. 

“It makes us all very happy that this has worked out so well,” Jespersen said. 

In the months leading up to the surgery on March 20, Jespersen tried to get in the best physical shape he possibly could. He did this by trying to exercise daily. 

The surgery itself was in Portland and took about four hours. Jespersen’s left kidney was removed laparoscopically, a process that allows surgeons to access a person’s abdomen without leaving any large incisions in the skin. This was done by putting three holes into Jespersen’s side, two of the holes were for medical instruments and the other for a camera. The surgeons then dislodge the kidney, only having to make an eight inch incision for removal. 

“I was very impressed with all the surgeons, the whole team, the level of care was phenomenal,” Jespersen said. 

For a healthy person, recovery can take around six weeks. Jespersen, however, was back to work after about two weeks, though he moved slowly and felt some discomfort. Jespersen’s goal was to walk every day after surgery, even though it started out as just shuffling. He was committed to moving as much as he could knowing that it would help him recover. 

Donating an organ can be emotionally taxing for some people. Jespersen says that making a choice like this is “such an individual decision.” 

“It’s not like I’ve had this lifelong ambition to donate an organ,” he said. “It was a set of circumstances but I was really happy I was able to do it.” 

Throughout the process, Jespersen’s family was his main support. Most of Jespersen’s family was supportive of his decision, including his two daughters. Jespersen’s dad was also in support but did express parental worry initially. 

Jespersen didn’t tell a lot of people about the surgery, and tried to keep it “under the radar” until after the surgery or when word got out. 

“Word spreads and it’s hard to hide that you donated a kidney,” he said. 

McNary High School staff first found out about Jespersen’s donation during a Professional Development Meeting on March 22, when Assistant Principal Dan Borresen had to announce why Jespersen was absent. The recipient’s immediate family also thanked Jespersen publicly on social media, and from there word got out. 

Jespersen advises those looking to donate a kidney to do their homework. Research in order to understand all the potential dangers, as well as if a person is even physically or mentally able to donate. Jespersen says It’s something one has to be all in on. 

“I’m not saying that people should just go out and do it, it has to be a personal decision based on where they are in life and the relationship they have potentially with the other recipient,” he said.