Havre Daily News
Vickie Jacobsen and Karen Nave have known each other for almost two decades, singing together in the First Lutheran Church choir. They had never been more than acquaintances, but they are now closer than ever.
Earlier this month, Nave gave Jacobsen one of her kidneys.
Jacobsen has lived with diabetes for about as long as the two women have known each other. In December, she learned that her kidneys were failing and that she had to go on dialysis.
The search for a live donor began. Little did she know, the kidney she needed would come from one of the other altos in the choir. The women found out July 8 that they were a match.
After tests and sessions with doctors and social workers at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., the big day arrived on Aug. 2. Nave said she wasn't nervous before the operation.
"I've been ready for this," said the Havre special education teacher. "I had two. She needed one. I'm as healthy as an ox. This is something I could do, so why not? It was essentially that logical for me."
Jacobsen, a former bank officer, was likewise comfortable with the procedure.
"I was not nervous that morning at all," she said. "I felt very peaceful with it. Our church had a prayer vigil for us when we were going into surgery. It must've helped. I think, after you go through all of those medical tests, you just learn to relax and go with the flow." The surgery went off without a hitch. In such a procedure, the kidney begins working on the operating table. Jacobsen said doctors told her husband it was one of the healthiest kidneys they've seen. Nave's remaining kidney and Jacobsen's new one will each grow about 10 percent to 20 percent.
Nave spent a little over three days in the hospital and was back in Havre a week later, doing workshops for Havre Public Schools. Her recovery time was quick because of advances that have been made in the medical field, she said.
"The surgery is not as invasive as it used to be, from an incision point of view," Nave said. "I feel great, though I'm still a little tired."
Jacobsen spent two weeks in Spokane before returning to Havre. She travels to Great Falls once a week for a checkup.
Nave said the medical staff at Sacred Heart went through quite a process before the surgery to ensure that she was aware of her responsibilities and really wanted to go through with the operation.
"We both had to talk to a social worker to make sure we were mentally ready for this," Nave said. She also spoke with a registered nurse and financial adviser.
Jacobsen's health insurance will pay for the surgeries. In a live transplant, the donor is responsible for paying travel costs and other miscellaneous expenses. Nave said other people's monetary donations have helped her pay her share of the costs.
"I've been very fortunate to have other people's generosity," Nave said. "Vickie's costs have been significant."
She stressed that she is no hero.
"It's a doable thing," Nave said. "Donation is not as unheard-of as people think it is. It's not so far out in left field that you couldn't imagine it. What's taking a couple of weeks out of my life, compared to what the benefit is?"
Without Nave or another live donor, Jacobsen would have had to sign on to the national registry and wait for a cadaver kidney. The process could have taken as long as two to five years, Jacobsen said. Also, the success and recovery rate is less than with a live donation, she added.
"I was doing OK on the dialysis, but I was pretty much tied to the machine," Jacobsen said. "It was difficult, and I had to rearrange a lot of activities to coincide with the dialysis.
"They say people can go for years on dialysis, but you just don't know," she added. "You can get to a point where the dialysis won't work anymore, and then you're looking at not a very bright future."
Jacobsen said she will be forever grateful for Nave's gift.
"By her doing this, she's giving me a second chance at a normal life," she said. "(Nave) has always just been so full of grace. She's always doing something for other people."
The women are no longer just friendly acquaintances and fellow musicians.
"This creates a bond that will always be there," Jacobsen said. "I feel like she's my sister."