Faith and Friendship

Chanhassen’s Gaylon Rust donates a kidney to friend Bruce Reimer.
Gaylon Rust (left) donated a kidney to his friend Bruce Reimer.

Bruce Reimer was out of options. The man who used to run marathons now could barely walk a quarter of a mile without getting tired. He had to take frequent rest breaks when completing the most routine of tasks. “My activity was really low and I was just getting tired all the time,” Reimer says.

More than a decade earlier, Reimer learned he had chronic kidney disease. He had no family history of the disease, but for years had success controlling the disease with medication. He lived a normal life with his wife, Kathy, in Shakopee, but over time his energy levels steadily dropped.

In 2012, when his doctor called to tell him it was time to get on a kidney transplant list, Reimer prepared himself for the inevitable waiting game. “You don’t get your hopes up too much,” Reimer says.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are about 2,400 people registered on the wait list for a kidney in Minnesota. About two-thirds of all kidneys that come from living donors come from relatives, but often, family members cannot donate due to health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes, or if a kidney disease is genetic. “People who need an organ transplant often spend years on the waiting list before a suitable organ is found,” says Sean Roach, spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation.

Reimer shared the news of his deteriorating health and placement on the transplant list with his family and then his small group at Westwood Community Church in Excelsior. For nearly a year, Reimer and his wife had been a part of a group of men and women who met every other week to study biblical topics and share stories of faith. When Reimer shared his story and prayer request for a donor, the request resonated with one of the members. “We really didn’t know each other super well,” says Gaylon Rust, who lives in Chanhassen with his wife, Linda. “I rarely see Bruce between services, because we are going in different directions. But one Sunday we had plenty of time, and we got to talking.”

Reimer mentioned the donor and recipient having the same blood type as a key first step, and the men discovered they were both the same blood type. “At that point, I starting thinking seriously about it and I felt God prompting me to do it,” Rust says.

Rust started undergoing a series of tests to determine if he was the right match.

When Rust called Reimer to tell him everything was set for the transplant, Reimer couldn’t quite put his gratitude into words. “It was crazy, just wonderful news,” Reimer says. “There was nothing that I could do but to make known the need and pray someone would answer. It was out of our control.”

The transplant was set for just after Christmas in 2013. The surgery seemed to go as planned, until a few days later when a complication during Rust’s surgery led to an infection. Rust’s recovery stretched into weeks in the hospital and at a nearby recuperation facility. “I was doing so well; why him? It was tough because my recovery was going so smoothly,” Reimer says. “It was really a high-anxiety time.”

As Rust recovered, he found himself battling bitterness. “I probably went through a period of time where I was quite angry at God for a few days,” Rust remembers. “But I kept reading my Bible and devotional books.”

Friends and family also buoyed Rust’s spirit. “It was humbling to find out how many people were praying for us,” Rust says. “I learned a lot of lessons, and I am amazed and thankful for the power of prayer.”

Now the two men go to their routine checkups and are expected to lead normal lives, but the transplant changed the friendship in a profound way. “It was a gift,” Reimer says. “I try to do everything I can to make sure nothing goes wrong with this kidney, and I want to say ‘thank you’ every time I see him.”

Considering donating a kidney? Learn more here.