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A match made in heaven

After 39 years, Brian Eidsvold felt he was finally able to give something worthwhile back to his mother - her life. And it was a gift he never imagined he could give her.

In 2000, Joan Eidsvold's routine physical revealed that she had chronic kidney disorder. As her kidney function declined over the next few years, doctors told her that she was heading toward dialysis quickly, and that a kidney transplant would eventually be necessary.

She was put on the National Kidney Donor List (a cadaver situation), but the wait could be up to five years. In the meantime, it was suggested she pursue the option of a living donor.

Not one of Joan's seven siblings was a match. Neither was her husband, Tom. Brian was her only child.

Joan's daughter-in-law, Drea, Brian's wife, then decided to check if she would be a match. She made one phone call that would forever change the lives of the Eidsvolds, who all reside in Alexandria.

Brian overheard his wife on the phone requesting a donor kit and said, "You might as well send me one too."

After a brief history via telephone, Drea was eliminated as a possible donor. Instead, the kit was sent to Brian. He received it in September 2006. The preliminary blood work was deemed OK and he was sent for a full workup at Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis.

He was a perfect match.

Normally, it wouldn't be unusual for a son to be an organ donor for a parent. But in this case it was "a miracle."

Brian is adopted.

Biologically, mother and son are complete strangers.

"I had never considered myself a possibility because I was adopted," Brian said, explaining why he didn't think to be tested right away.

"I was very surprised," Joan agreed. "I could hardly believe it. I think it was all in God's plan, really. That it was really meant to be. God closes one door and opens another. A door opened and there was Brian. It was just fate."

By this time, Joan's kidneys were operating at 20 percent. As long as they stayed at that level, the surgery could be delayed. But should they go below that, the transplant from son to mother would immediately be scheduled.

Almost a year passed after Brian was declared a match, while Joan's kidneys maintained at 20 percent. In October 2007, her kidney function dipped down to 15 percent. The surgery was scheduled right away.

Brian had no doubts that he was doing the right thing.

"My acceptance of going through the process was easy," he said. "The only issue I may ever have is that if I have a trauma to a kidney, I don't have that second backup one. But I wasn't concerned about going through the procedure or quality-of-life issues. There was not even a question."

On January 4, Brian and Joan were wheeled away as their loved ones watched and waited at Fairview Hospital.

"Not only was my wife on the operating table, but my son was there at the same time," Tom said. "I was very nervous."

During a five-hour surgery, Brian's kidney was removed and placed into his mother. It functioned immediately in her body.

Within four hours, Joan's new kidney had "cleaned out all the poisons." Both her creatinine and potassium levels went down in that short time.

Brian spent just four days in the hospital and Joan five. Within days, Joan's new kidney was functioning at 100 percent and she has made a remarkable recovery. She is currently taking several anti-rejection medications, which will gradually lessen over time.

"I'm making decent headway and something unexpected will happen. I sneezed once and it set me back," Brian said of his road to recovery. "I'm halfway to being fully recovered."

The family jokes now that there is no doubt Joan has some of her son in her. Brian has a reputation for being more than a tad competitive, while Joan is normally sweet, mild-mannered and easy going. In a recent card game, she uncharacteristically got a little feisty.

"Yep, she definitely has a little of Brian in her now," Drea said, as they all laughed.

Laughing isn't the only thing this family intends on doing more of in the future - together.

"I think we can both say we've come closer together," Brian said.

"I've gotten to know him better," Joan agreed.

The transplant also made the Eidsvolds realize how important it is to be an organ donor - especially a live donor.

"We are encouraging people to be aware that they can be a living donor," Tom said, using Brian's gift to his mother - to whom he has no biological ties - as the perfect example that people can donate to strangers. "It doesn't affect quality of life. There are so many people in need of them. As a family we want to emphasize to donate, because the rewards are great."

"I didn't even consider myself a possibility," Brian repeated. "It was kind of on a whim. I'm so happy I could help Mom and really proud I was able to do it.

"There are opportunities or times in your life where you need to take advantage and not let the moment slip by," he concluded. "In my mind I have done that. The way it worked out couldn't have been better."

A note that Joan wrote to Brian sums up her awe and feelings of gratitude for her son's ultimate gift - a second chance at life.

"Brian, you are not flesh of my flesh, nor bones of my bones. Miraculously, you are my own. You grew not 'under' my heart, but 'in it.'

"With love, Mom."