Transplant recipient urging others to become organ donor - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waverly transplant recipient urging others to become organ donors

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

More than 114,000 people are waiting for an organ.  Eighteen die every day before getting that life-saving donation.  One eastern Iowa man is celebrating life, after receiving a kidney from a complete stranger.

Duane Bergmann just turned 70 and is marking two years with a donated kidney.  Before his transplant surgery, Bergmann had a host of health problems.

"Well, I've had a triple bypass.  Then I had a perforated colon that completely shut down my kidneys and went to dialysis for a year-and-a-half," said Bergmann.

So Bergmann knew eventually he'd need a transplant, but with so many on the waiting list, Bergmann wasn't sure he'd ever get a new kidney.  His daughter convinced him to get on the list.  By a strange fluke, she told that to her friend, Sarah Unger.  Even though Unger had never met Bergmann, she offered to get tested to see if she'd be a match.

"My grandmother and my aunt both had a genetic kidney disease, which I was fortunate enough not to inherit.  So with the disease in the family, I really wanted to help somebody who was experiencing something they did.  Unfortunately, they're both deceased.  So I couldn't help them, but I could help somebody else," said Unger.

It turns out Unger was a perfect match, even better than Bergmann's relatives.  Two years post-surgery, the pair now consider each other family.

"How do you thank somebody enough?  There's just no words for it," said Bergmann.

"We share a part of each other, and it's an amazing feeling.  I would not have missed this experience.  It has given so much more to me than I ever gave," Unger said.

As for health, they're both doing great.  Bergmann and Unger just hope sharing their story will encourage others to become registered organ donors, and especially to consider being a living donor.

"If more people would donate, you could develop a friendship for the rest of your life.  If we could just get one more person to donate, it'd be well worth our time," Bergmann said.

Bergmann and Unger now each carry a small stone with them at all times that reads "believe".  It's a testament to the miracle that brought them together, and gave them both a new lease on life.

You can learn more about making an end-of-life donation at www.organdonor.gov.  For information on living organ donation, you can contact any kidney dialysis center.

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