How a 7-foot snow kidney named Kevin saved a life

When Jim Gorbunow was growing up, he loved building snowmen and the occasional snow fort in his front yard, but he never imagined building a 7-foot snow kidney named Kevin would eventually save his life.

Gorbunow was diagnosed with Type I diabetes as a child and had to have a kidney and pancreas transplant 15 years ago. A blood clot led to getting another pancreas a few years later, and his kidney was wearing out so he desperately needed another one of those too.

"I've always been a guy who's kept a smile on my face. There are days when I'm home alone or driving though, and I think, how much longer do I have?" he said earlier this month.

So last winter, Gorbunow created a kidney made of snow in his front yard that he nicknamed Kevin after a high school friend in hopes of finding a donor, and then another one made of plywood that he put in his front yard last summer -- "I'm hoping it will bring attention to the fact that people need organ donors. I'm not the only one who needs a kidney transplant so I'm hoping it benefits everybody."

His story made national news, but despite hundreds of offers to give him a kidney, none of the potential donors were a match.

That is, until Saturday, when he received a call from the University of Minnesota for a potential kidney that could save his life. Gorbunow was told he was third in line for the kidney. But the two people in front of him were waiting for double transplants, and Jim only needed one.

After several hours of waiting, the doctors shared the good news. The donor kidney, from a 20-year-old who died from heart failure in Chicago, would be his.

"We didn't know until the minute they rolled him into the operating room that yes, it was an actual match," his wife said.


The family posted hour by hour updates on their Facebook page while Gorbunow was undergoing surgery. Doctors say he will be up and walking again in the next couple days.

"He's the kind of person when we got to see him after the surgery and I'm crying, he's like 'it's okay,'" his wife said.  "I'm like 'what are you telling me it's okay for? I should be telling you it's okay.'"

A sign in his front yard, where he previously had the 7-foot snow kidney, now reads "Jim Got His Kidney! 3/21/15."

Gorbunow said he's going to continue building the snowmen in his front yard to raise awareness.

"I'm going to keep it going. I'm not stopping now. Whether it's another kidney or a sponge bob in my front yard, I'll keep awareness going."

Related: 7-foot snow kidney still waiting for match

To help with donations: Jim's donation page

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