Minnesota man's kidney donation to a stranger helped national registry hit a milestone

Ben Rengstrof's kidney donation was part of the 5,000th transplant for the National Kidney Registry's program. (FOX 9)

A Minnesota man who donated a kidney to save another person's life also set a record in the process.

Ben Rengstrof is a high school teacher with a mission, which started with a lesson learned after his father received a lung transplant two years ago.

"A kidney donation really isn’t that invasive of a surgery," said Rengstrof. "And so I decided I had to do it."

With the kidney donation, Rengstrof became an altruistic donor. He didn’t know the person receiving his kidney. He also didn’t know that he was making history.

"It was the 5,000th kidney to be a part of the chain donation around the country through the kidney donation registry," Rengstrof said.

Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Mikel Prieto performed the surgery. He says Rengstrof’s donation is not just a milestone, it’s part of a lifesaving trend.

"Every week we are doing several of these kidneys where we actually take a kidney from a donor here," said Mayo Clinic transplant surgeon Dr. Michael Prieto. "But instead of transplanting that kidney into their loved one, they can get shipped to a place so that a better recipient is a better candidate for that kidney. And then we get a kidney back from another transplant center to transplant into our patient."

In Rengstrof's case, a woman in her 40s received his kidney at the UCLA Medical Center.

Bethany Nolt was Rengstrof's surgical recovery coordinator at LifeSource. She says kidney donors easily live with their one remaining kidney.

"Your life may not feel a lot different afterward, but that recipient’s life has changed," said Nolt. "Substantially forever.  No more dialysis every day."

"It’s one of the greatest gifts that any human being can do for somebody else," added Dr. Prieto.

As for Rengstrof, he’s in full recovery. He hopes others will consider walking the same path. "I definitely want other people to know how accessible and possible it is."

Dr. Prieto at Mayo Clinic says they perform about 270 kidney transplant operations a year at the Rochester campus, but the need is great. Bethany Nolt says 2,000 Minnesotans are currently waiting for a kidney.