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The gift that keeps on giving

Dr. Doug Norbyj had a kidney transplant in 1999 at Medcenter One.
Dr. Doug Nordby had a kidney transplant in 1999 at Sanford Health in Bismarck. He continues his optometry practice in Watford City.
  Doug Nordby learned he had high blood pressure while he was in optometry school.

When he got out of school in the mid-1980s and his blood pressure started going up, he learned he had IgA nephropathy—an autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys.

He did OK until the spring of 1998, when he got a letter saying to call his doctor. That’s when he learned it was time to get on a kidney transplant list. He felt OK, but that didn’t last long.

“Within three months I was feeling terrible,” he said.

He began getting low, dull headaches, nausea and fatigue as his hemoglobin— the oxygen-carrying protein pigment in the blood—
went down.

“You don’t get enough oxygen,” he said.

Because he owned his own optometry office in Watford City, he didn’t have other employees who could fill in, so he kept working full time. Between patients and over the lunch hour, he’d grab naps.

His blood type is O-positive, which meant he could be a donor for anybody else but needed an exact match for himself. Three of his friends offered to get tested. One was on blood pressure medication, so he couldn’t do it. But his wife volunteered. The Watford City English teacher had Nordby’s children in class, was a patient of Nordby’s and had a cabin next door to the doctor’s in New Town.

“Four weeks later,” Nordby said, “I’m sitting at Sanford Health in Bismarck.”

Sanford Health performed the state’s first kidney transplant in 1988, and it remains the only hospital in central and western North Dakota that performs transplants.

Nadim Koleilat, MD, transplant surgeon, performed Nordby’s transplant in 1999. Dr. Koleilat has been doing transplants since 1991, and Sanford Health averages 20 kidney transplants per year. The surgeon said once testing is done on a potential living donor, the surgery can be done within two to five weeks. People who have to wait for a transplant from a deceased donor wait an average of three years in the North Dakota region, Dr. Koleilat said.

  Dr. Nadim Koleilat Nadim
Koleilat, MD

Transplant surgery
Nordby said immediately after the transplant, the nausea and fatigue were gone. “It went great,” he said. “It’s like getting a dose of oxygen. You don’t have that blood pumped around you that’s not very clean.”

Although before the transplant people never told him he looked bad, afterward, everywhere he went people told him he no longer looked “half dead.” He went from taking 20-some pills a day before the transplant to about four a day now.

The 55-year eye doctor, who has three children, still practices in Watford City. His donor has since retired from teaching and still lives in Watford City. She and her husband and Nordby recently went on a “mini-vacation” together in Miami Beach.

Nordby is still humbled to think his friend’s wife stepped forward to give him a gift that keeps on giving, 12 years later.

“For people to step up and do that sort of thing without family ties,” Nordby said, “that’s special.”

Click here for more information about Sanford Transplant Center or call (701) 323-2833.

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