As a nurse, he had seen too many people suffering
Many people across the national have considered donating organs to save lives if they should ever lose theirs.
A new trend of donating certain organs such as kidneys, while living, is becoming more popular.
Cindy Stambach of Storm Lake was one of the 50,000 people waiting for a kidney, when the kindness of a total stranger helped her in a time of need.
"I was going to dialysis for so long that they were looking at my legs to find a place for dialysis," Stambach said. "I was so overjoyed when I received a telephone call from the Mayo Clinic telling me that they had someone willing to donate to me. I called my son, who came for the transplant, and my husband to tell them the good news. I remember as we went to Rochester (Minnesota) I kept telling him to go faster."
The operation was a great success for Stambach who no longer needs dialysis and is enjoying a full life.
Her donor turned out to be a nurse from La Crosse Wisconsin, Rick Gardner, who was compelled to donate after multiple emotional experiences in the medical field.
"I was attending a seminar and a presenter talked about donating while still alive," Gardner said. "I put it in the back of mind to talk about it with my wife."
Gardner who worked for an Intensive Care Unit, also spent time caring for people in a dialysis unit.
"If you ever go see people in a dialysis unit they are alive but not living," he said. "They can be going there two to three times a week at five hours a shot."
Being a living donor requires sacrifice. Gardner had to take six weeks off from his job for recovery. The lost time at work cost Gardner roughly $3,000.
"How do you put a price on giving someone a chance to live?" Gardner said about his decision process.
Gardner elected not to select who was going to receive his kidney.
"I found out I was the seventh person to donate as a stranger in the two-year-old program at the Mayo Clinic," Gardner said. "I have been asked to speak about donating organs and I always get the what if questions. 'What if your family needs a kidney?' or 'What if some you know needs a kidney?' I just ask by a show of hands does anyone in their family need a kidney. No one raises their hand."
Gardner has correspond with other people considering donating letting them know what to expect and how to be prepared.
About five or six months after the surgery, both Gardner and Stambach were contacted by the Mayo Clinic and asked if they would like to meet.
"I never had the expectation of meeting the person," Gardner said. "When I gave the kidney I was told it was a woman from Iowa and that was more than enough, but we corresponded in some emails and telephone calls. It was great to meet her and her husband when they came up for a visit."
"I was nervous when going to meet (Gardner)," Stambach admitted. "I am glad that I did have a chance to meet the donor and he was such a nice gentleman and his family is great."
A friendship has surprised both of them but they are glad to get to know each other.
"I'm really do look forward to expanding the friendship," Stambach added.
"My family and I are looking forward to getting down to Storm Lake sometime to meet her family but we are not sure when," Gardner said.
Gardner recommends that people who are considering donating do research about it and talk to their family in advance.
"Talking it over with my wife was the first thing I did when considering donating," Gardner said. "We then did some research and I talked to some doctors I knew and learned much about it."
During his testing to see if he would be able to donate, he was asked if he would have a problem with an elderly person receiving his kidney.
"I have seen people in their 20s or 30s give up on life and I have seen people in their 70s and 80s living life to the fullest so age was never an issue," Gardner said.
He hopes his experience can be a model for others considering donation.
"As a nurse I have seen people suffer from kidney problems and it wasn't pretty," Gardner said. "I decided that I was able to get at least one person off the list."