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Making the Most of a Second Chance

I have been called a hero for being a living donor to my brother Jim. The true hero is Jim, who has made the most of his new kidney and has made a difference in many lives for over 34 years since the kidney transplant. Since then, Jim has promoted the cause of organ donation in countless was; including making repeated educational presentations using CKF materials, serving on various related committees, volunteering in numerous schools, and competing in World Transplant Games.

Kurt Unholtzer, a kidney recipient wrote of Jim. “Jim Brien’s life began to take an odd turn at the tender age of 19. In 1966, Jim was not drafted, but he was asked to submit to a routine medical exam related to the process. A blood test indicated that he was anemic. He was suffering from irreversible kidney failure. He started a career as a fire dispatcher in 1971 in the town of in Marinette County. Jim’s kidney disease progressed more slowly than the doctors thought it would.”

In 1980, his kidney function had declined significantly. He had lost 30lbs and his skin took on a sickly looking cast. He was tired all the time and had occasional spells of vomiting. Along with my 2 other brothers, we were all tested to see if we could be a match for organ donation. I was the perfect match.

“I was thankful, but really didn’t understand the significance of it at the time,” Jim recalled. “Jerry was eager to try to save his brother, so a prompt surgery date was set for June 23, 1982.” As to the outcome Jim said, “I was grateful for what Jerry did and I was determined to live my life to the fullest.”

Following the surgery, Jim went on to have two daughters, which wouldn’t have been possible without the transplant. He also has one granddaughter and another on the way.

Jim has successfully competed in numerous Transplant Games and works to educate the public as to the facts and myths of organ donation. He said of the Games, “The people that I’ve met at the games; recipients, donor families and other donors all had inspirational stories and preparing to compete in the Games made me more fit. Going to the games is showing others that transplants can be successful and that you get a second chance and that another person had to make a decision and a sacrifice to make it happen.”

Jim shared, “I’ve been given a second chance at life and I was lucky, so the least I can do is spend time helping others.” Unholtzer further wrote of him, “Going forward Jim Brien has no intention of letting up, at least not until his body tells him no and that hopefully that won’t happen anytime soon, because his work helps other people so much. We could certainly use more Jim Brien’s in the world to inspire us all when we face the adversity that will inevitably face us over the course of our own journey through life.”




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