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Kidney donor reveals identity

Andrew Andersen, left, received a new kidney from Phil Goodwin.

Andrew Andersen, left, received a new kidney from Phil Goodwin.

Lutheran lay person was ready to go on dialysis when an anonymous donor stepped forward.

For Andrew Andersen of St. Paul, Minnesota, the clock began ticking decades ago.
The 49-year-old president of the vestry and the congregation at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, has known since childhood that his congenital condition could result in kidney failure. His grandfather fell victim to polycystic kidney disease, and his mother spent her last years on dialysis.
But Andersen, a high energy optimist, didn’t obsess about it, nor even think much about his own prospects. Not until he began to experience a serious energy depletion in the early 1990s.
“I was exhausted,” he remembers. “And I slept a lot.”
By fall, 1998, his physician was getting concerned. She called him in and said, “We need to talk about a transplant, or else dialysis.”
Historically, it can take 5-7 years waiting for a kidney match. Andersen had plenty of offers from family and friends, but no matches. He was almost resigned to starting kidney dialysis in 2000 when the doctor called again.
“We have a new protocol,” she explained. Typically donors are known to the recipient. But Fairview-University Hospital was pushing the envelope and was prepared to link Andersen with an anonymous donor.
Why would anybody offer to give a kidney to somebody they didn’t know, and would never meet?
In retrospect, Andersen explains, “I was getting a gift from a person who was incredibly altruistic. I didn’t know it at the time, but have since learned that this individual wanted to give without the possibility of being repaid. That’s why it had to be anonymous.”
The transplant took place at Fairview-University Hospitals at a time when Andersen’s kidneys were both down to around 11% of function. It was time.
Afterwards, he says, “I felt an amazing infusion of new energy. The fatique was gone immediately.”
How do you thank a secret donor? Andersen asked church friends who ran a flower shop to send a bouquet, routed through the unit at the hospital. He also sent, through the medical center, an e-mail thanking his benefactor, and telling something about himself.
That e-mail started an irreversible chain of events that eventually smoked out the donor. Andersen says, “I didn’t send the flowers and the e-mail in order to learn this person’s identity. I just wanted to show my gratitude.”
The message was heartfelt. In part, it read, “I hope you know how much the people I love appreciate what you’ve done for me.” Andersen says, “Apparently, that really moved him.”
That might have been the end of it. But, after a hiatus of many months, Andersen got an answer. There was still no name nor identity (the mail was still shuttling through the hospital), but some amazing convergences began to become evident. Both donor and recipient had a lot in common, including interests, activities, life experiences and philosophy of life.
Two months ago, the donor came out of hiding. Phil Goodwin, a 63-year-old junior high school teacher from Westerly, Rhode Island, told Andersen he and his wife were coming to the Twin Cities.
Andrew Andersen knows how to throw a party. To host his guests, he organized a picnic and invited “a few friends.” Around 55 showed up. It rained, so they all crowded into his St. Paul apartment. “It was elbow to elbow,” he remembers, “but it was wonderful!”
Andersen was immediately taken with his benefactor. “He’s gentle, thoughtful, gracious, playful — as well as incredibly generous,” he says.
A lot like Andersen, actually.