Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Challenges haven’t slowed down this Roseville Lutheran

Daniel Sander Lee has had four kidney transplants

Daniel Sander Lee, Jr., has survived cancer and four kidney transplants. Trained as a pharmacist, he also established an arts organization in North Dakota, creates pottery, and appears in the new movie, “Factotum,” filmed in Minnesota and starring Matt Dillon.

Lee lives in Roseville where he is a member of St. Michael Lutheran Church (ELCA). “I can see the church from my window. I found my church home first, and then found this house,” Lee says. “St. Michael’s congregation is a welcoming and very loving community.” He has served six years on the church council, one year as president.

Medical drama entered Lee’s life early. Growing up in Gwinner, North Dakota, he developed edema at the age of nine. First diagnosed as an allergic reaction, it turned out to be advanced kidney disease.

“The doctor in Fargo sent me to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where clinic doctors said there was nothing they could do for me. My parents pressed for another answer. Then the Mayo doctors mentioned Dr. John Najarian at the University of Minnesota.”

Najarian, a pioneer in organ transplantation, operated on Lee in March 1971. “My father donated a kidney. It started working right on the operating table and functioned for ten years.” Daniel Lee, Sr., lived to the age of 86, dying in April this year.

Young Daniel discovered a love for theater. “Children in North Dakota did not have much opportunity for art. There was no theater until high school, [when he began acting]. As a college student at Concordia, Moorhead, I returned to Gwinner in the summer and started a children’s theater for grades 5-8.” Gwinner Junior Players, led for ten years by Lee and later by his sister, Mary Edman, has been thriving for close to thirty years, making it one of the oldest continuing arts organizations in North Dakota.

They also helped found a community arts council that has been a model for other North Dakota towns, receiving recognition from the governor.

Later, in the Twin Cities, Lee took acting classes and began appearing on camera, for example in a Best Buy training film. “Factotum” is his first feature-length film. Lee describes it as a very dark comedy. “Matt Dillon plays an author who is trying unsuccessfully to sell his stories. He takes other jobs and becomes addicted to alcohol, gambling and wo-men. There are fifty or sixty local actors. My role is very small.”

Lee appears in an early sequence of “Factotum,” shot at Gedney’s Pickle Factory in Chaska. Lee’s character orders Dillon, who is considerably taller, to get back to work and is jostled, pummeled and lifted off his feet.
Although shot in the Twin Cities, the picture is set in Los Angeles. Some viewers may be fooled, but anyone recognizing Lake Minnetonka will laugh to hear it described as “the ocean.”

The present writer saw “Factotum” in England, where it has been popular. It will be released in the U.S. in fall 2006. Based on a novel by Charles Bukowski, it is directed by Bent Hamer and stars Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei in addition to Dillon.

Lee attended the Sundance, Utah, Film Festival where the film was shown in January 2006.

Lee began his career as a pharmacist in 1990, now specializing in long-term care. He also creates pottery, for sale and to enter in juried shows. “I do organic, functional shapes and serving pieces. One lady who bought a piece for her home told me that seeing it gives her joy every day.”
Lee’s medical progress has been rocky. He went on kidney dialysis in the early 1980s. “My second transplant in 1984 failed. A third transplant lasted 13 years. In 1995 I had skin cancer, tongue cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Chemotherapy took care of the cancer but was hard on the kidney.”

Lee’s sister, Sandy Chapin, donated a kidney in August 2004, his fourth transplant.

Through all of this, Lee remains centered. “I’ve always seen my life as having three focuses: science, the arts, and spirituality, all linked and interacting. In the sciences you need a creative outlook to imagine hypotheses. Art is spiritual for me. The spiritual element enters every part of life.

“There is still so much we do not know about prayer. Maybe we’ll be able to find out scientifically some day [how prayer works], but I believe there will always be an element of mystery. I also like to stress that we have more than one way of healing someone, through science and through prayer, which are both gifts of God that we should use.
“I’ve felt the healing power of prayer. I’ve come very near death a number of times, but faith, hope, love, prayer, and family are life-giving, and I thank God that I have them in my life.”