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John Lamb, Published December 21 2008

All he wanted for Christmas was a kidney

With just a few days to go before Christmas, friends have started exchanging gifts.

Sindy Keller gave hers to Dan Rognlie extra early – the day before Thanksgiving. That was the day she gave her kidney to an ailing


“It was the greatest gift,” Rognlie said.

They’ve worked together for 23 years at Service Oil Inc. in West Fargo; she as controller, he as payroll manager.

For the first three years, she saw Dan struggle with his health, needing up to 12 hours a week of kidney dialysis.

That changed 20 years ago when he received his first kidney transplant.

“It changed his life,” said Keller, noting how he became more energetic at work and enjoyed life more.

But the easy living recently ended when a cold developed into an infection.

“He was struggling just to survive,” Keller said. “It was a hard thing to watch. There was a question whether he was going to live or not. He did, but he lost that kidney.”

So Rognlie, at age 54, was back to the dialysis grind.

“Dialysis keeps you alive and keeps you going until you can get a transplant, but it’s not a quality way of life,” he said.

Things looked up this summer when another co-worker initially tested positive to be a donor. But again, his spirits fell when the prospective donor wasn’t compatible.

“Just to see the hope Dan had, knowing he’d get a kidney was great,” Keller said. “Then to see the disappointment in his face when told the donor no longer matched one week before the surgery was hard to watch.”

That’s when Keller stepped in. At the end of October, she went in for a blood test and found she was a match. But she didn’t want to get Rognlie’s hopes up. So she quietly went through more tests and consultations with doctors and even a social worker.

The 49-year-old considered it a “faith walk.”

“I said to God, ‘You obviously want me to do this,’ because I felt very peaceful,” she said.

Finally, she called Rognlie into her office and explained she’d been through the testing and was ready to donate.

“His eyes got significantly bigger,” Keller recalled. “I really think there was a part of him that didn’t believe it was happening.”

He said he was surprised by “someone who’s not family stepping up so I could have a better way of life.”

While they’re not related, Keller feels that friends and co-workers are just as close as family.

“We really are a family at work,” she explained. “We spend many hours with these people in the office, sometimes as much as we spend with our actual families.”

Two weeks after she offered to donate, they were in surgery. Two weeks later, Keller was back at work, her four incisions healing.

“So you’ve got some aches and pains. I’d give that up to give Dan a good 20 years with a new kidney,” she said. “I feel I’ve been pretty blessed in life. You step back and say, ‘I’ve had a really good life, and it’s nice to give something back.’ ”

“How do repay this gift?” Rognlie asked. “She was a perfectly healthy person, never been on the operating table, and they take a healthy organ from her and give it to me and give me a better way of life. I can’t express how I feel. I’m so grateful.”

For Keller, the giving was a gift to herself and she hopes others will consider donating.

“Being able to give back is such a good thing. … Just the smiles on (Rognlie’s and his wife’s) faces was thanks enough,” she said. “It’s a good thing. I really believe this was meant to be.”

Readers can reach Forum columnist

John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

or jlamb@forumcomm.com