A Williston boy who had been fighting for his life due to a progressive kidney disease got the miracle his family had been praying for, thanks to a Fargo nurse with Williston ties.
Ashton Hanson, 13, is back home and back to school, and he’s working on his own personal bucket list. That isn’t a list of things to do before he dies, however. It’s a list of all the things he couldn’t do before he got his new kidney.
Included on that list is a camping trip this weekend with his Boy Scout troop. There’s also playing with his friends past 7:30 p.m., and riding his bike and his scooter as if they came with wings.
He’s also eating most of his favorite foods — even if the portion sizes must now be smaller than he’d like.
Ashton told the Williston Herald that he feels lucky.
“Some people don’t get their kidneys,” he said.
Ashton’s kidneys began to fail six years ago, but the last year was becoming a battle for his life. He had to have nightly dialysis, and needed a one-in-a million match to save his life.
That came from Jan Germundson, originally of Williston, but now a Fargo nurse.
Germundson keeps in touch with her hometown by following the Williston Herald’s Facebook page and learned of Ashton’s plight from a 2018 article that was linked there.
Two things about the young man stood out to her right off the bat. First, he was the same age as her daughter, Ella.
“I knew if any of my kids needed dialysis, I would want someone to come forward, if no one in my family was a match,” she said.
The second thing was Ashton’s blood type.
“I am O negative,” Germundson said, “so I knew from his blood type we would be a match. I did all the tests, and it just seemed like something God wanted me to do. I just kind of felt a connection.”
Germundson had also had a tough year personally, with the recent death of her father and her father-in-law.
“I knew that if I could somehow prevent someone else losing a loved one, if I could bring life to someone else, then that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.
Germundson talked to her family and friends before starting the ball rolling, just to make sure none of them had an objection. She also talked to a couple of friends who donated a kidney 20 or so years ago, to satisfy her concerns about the procedure’s safety.
Then, with a deep breath, she sent her blood work to the Mayo clinic.
A month went by. Then two, then three. It was so long Germundson thought perhaps she wasn’t a match at all. But then, in February, the clinic called and asked her to come in for more extensive testing.
“They did all sorts of tests,” Germundson said.
The tests are part of a robust program to ensure that the outcome is going to be good for both the recipient and the donor, explained Dr. Mikel Prieto, who was Ashton’s surgeon.
“We have to be confident that we are not going to hurt the donor,” Prieto told the Williston Herald. “We want the healthy person who doesn’t need surgery and is just doing this to help someone to have the confidence that they are going to have a safe surgery with no significant long-term side effects.”
Prieto said the Mayo clinic does about six kidney transplant surgeries each week. A large portion of them are kidneys that came living donors — roughly 80 percent, as compared to 20 percent nationwide.
The Mayo program is a model that is attracting attention, Prieto added. Last week, he picked up the head of a transplant program in New York, visiting the Mayo clinic to find out how they get so many living donors.
Prieto believes the extensive testing is a key element, but they also have a robust program that helps patients seek living donors from family, friends, or neighbors.
“We encourage everyone to get a living donor,” Prieto said. “That way you avoid the five-year waiting period with poor quality of life and you get a very healthy kidney from a healthy donor.”
Those who cannot find a living donor have waiting times that average five to six years, Prieto added, as there are not organ donations to go around for the number of people listed on the national registry.
The transplant surgery is generally easy on both the patients and the donor, Prieto added. The patient spends three to four days in the hospital and perhaps two to three weeks in Rochester for outpatient services. Germundson meanwhile, only had to stay a week, just to ensure there were no complications. After that she was clear to return to work, but needed to avoid lifting anything heavy for a while.
Melissa Lindvig, Ashton’s mother, told the Williston Herald that meeting Germundson was an emotional moment for all concerned.
“Words cannot express our gratitude to Jan,” Lindvig said. “She has given Ashton a new life, which extends to our family also. She and her family will always be in our prayers, and God bless them.”
Lindvig also thanked members of the community who have organized benefits to help the family with expenses.
The most recent of these included the recent Survivor Games at Beaver Bay Dam on Lake Sakakawea.
“We are very humbled by the outpouring of support, and very fortunate to live in a community that shows their support for a family in need,” Lindvig said.
Lindvig said she and Ashton hope that more people will consider signing up to be a donor.
It is easy to do, Prieto said, by signing the back of one’s driver license, talking to loved ones about your wishes in the event of an accident, or through the Mayo clinic program.
“If they have a friend or relative who needs a kidney, they should consider being a living donor,” Prieto said. “If they are brave enough to go through a small surgery and do this for someone else, it changes the life of someone who needs it, and can help to — you basically save a life by doing this. The outcomes of the surgery are fantastic, so it is a great thing you can do for someone.”