North Bend native Aaron Kelberlau, right, donated a kidney to friend Joel Kelley.
Kelberlau, Kelley cement friendship with kidney
by Mary Le Arneal
St. Peter Lutheran Church in North Bend has been praying for one of its sons, Aaron Kelberlau. But many are not sure why.
Kelberlau, 42, grew up in North Bend, graduated from North Bend Central in 1994, served in the Air Force and now lives in Blair where he is part owner in BabKel, an industrial maintenance company. A healthy young man with a special story that needed prayers.
Kelberlau donated one of his healthy kidney’s to a friend, Joel Kelley, who had polycystic kidney disease. The inherited disease had slowly turned Kelley’s kidneys into cysts, decreasing the kidney’s effectiveness of filtering waste from his body. In fall 2016 Kelley was placed on the transplant list for a new kidney to take over for his own kidneys.
Back up a few years. Kelberlau and Kelley, who became friends through Trinity Lutheran Church in Blair and coaching daughters the same age, happened to find out in a casual conversation that they both had B+ blood type, something shared with only 8.5 percent of the population.
When the call for friends and family came to see if they were possible candidates to donate a healthy kidney (everyone has two kidneys) to Kelley, Kelberlau readily volunteered to be tested, knowing he already had one factor, B+ blood, going for him. In October 2016, without telling his friend, Kelberlau went to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha to see if he was a match.
“It was quite an extensive process,” Kelberlau said. “It wasn’t until December when everyone else was weeded out, it was down to me.”
There are eight genetic markers, including blood type, that can be matched for the perfect organ transplant. Identical twins would have all eight. Kelberlau and Kelley shared six.
“We were a very good match,” Kelberlau said. “The tissue cross-match test matched, making the risk of rejection extremely low. The results were better than average. I was the guy.”
When the results came to light, they were asked when they wanted to do the surgery. Kelberlau said, “How about tomorrow?”
The next available date where there would be two surgical rooms next to each other was Jan. 12. The date was set. Both men were well hydrated before the surgery with intravenous fluids. Kelberlau went into surgery about 45 minutes before Kelley as his surgery was the more extensive. Once they started to cut Kelberlau, they prepared Kelley to receive the healthy kidney (his kidneys were not removed, just cut off). Once Kelberlau’s kidney was removed, it was flushed out, attached to Kelley’s ureter, then the kidney blood vessels were connected to Kelley’s iliac artery and vein. As soon as the blood vessels were connected, Kelley started producing urine.
“The organ never stopped working,” Kelberlau said. “Joel felt immediately better.”
When Kelberlau was wheeled back to his room he saw Kelley and could tell his color was already better.
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