Anniversary of father-son kidney transplant celebrated for National Donor Day

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Nearly 40 years ago, a day before Valentine's Day, Gordy Berglof underwent surgery at the University of Minnesota Hospital Systems and donated a kidney to his father Clinton, who had type one diabetes and was in desperate need of the life-saving transplant.

“Being able to donate an organ to somebody and to give them a new lease on life is just a wonderful thing to do for somebody,” said Berglof.

At the time, Gordy was just 22. When he was told by doctors he was a match for his dad, he didn't think twice about donating.

“I think you’re either there for people or you’re not—it was a very easy decision to make—just set the date and let’s go,” said Berglof.

Berglof was a somewhat a pioneer patient at the university for organ donation as the transplant was still a relatively new procedure at the time. In fact, several family members cautioned him against doing it.

“Had some distant family members that suggested maybe you don’t want to do this—your dad’s already sick, but that wasn’t considered at all,” said Berglof.

Kidney transplants are still the most common transplant surgeries done. On National Donor Day, doctors say the kidney is one of the easier organs to give because you don't have to match blood types any longer.

“Kidney transplant success has really changed a lot over the decades—in the early years it was almost a 50-50 chance the kidney would still be working in the recipient and nowadays it’s 96-plus percent,” said Dr. Ty Dunn, M.D., U of M health transplant surgeon.

By making the selfless decision to give one of his kidneys to his dying father, Berglof’s dad lived another nine years.

“He got much better after the transplant—the kidney started to work immediately, he started to feel better—his color got better,” he said.

National Donor Day was established in 1998 and encourages all Americans to register as donors of organs and tissues. Although millions have signed up, there is still a huge disparity in the number of people needing transplants and what's actually available.