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Offline Karol

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Published May 08, 2011, 12:16 AM
More than 25 years after breaking up, man gets kidney from ex-fiancee

In 1983, Kara Raymond dumped John LaPlante after dating for six years. Nearly three decades later, the Duluth woman saved LaPlante's life by donating a kidney.

By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune

More about the transplant process
John LaPlante was sitting at the kitchen table in the home he and his wife, Diane, built in Rice Lake Township as he described a relationship that ended 28 years ago.

“Well, we dated for six years,” said LaPlante, 50. “We were engaged to be married. But we were young and, you know … (had a) change of heart. Actually, it was Kara.”

The woman sitting next to him at the table started to laugh.

“She dumped me.”

“Yeah, I dumped him,” agreed Kara Raymond, 47.

Both moved on with their lives but continued to know each other through their workplaces. And years later, Raymond was able to offer LaPlante a life-changing gift.

Raymond and LaPlante had been sweethearts since they met at Merritt Park in West Duluth when she was a 14-year-old softball player and he was a 17-year-old caretaker. She had become close not only to LaPlante but to his older brother, Larry, and to his parents. That had been especially true since 1981, when her mother died during her junior year at Denfeld High School. Arnie and Pat LaPlante had become like parents to Kara, even hosting her graduation party in 1982.

By the time Kara broke off the relationship in 1983, both she and John LaPlante worked for Hallett Dock Co. in Duluth — and Arnie LaPlante was the manager.

“It was uncomfortable,” Raymond said. “And it was hard because his parents were very good to me and his dad was my boss. … It didn’t last long, but just for a little bit it was awkward.”

LaPlante went through a string of troubles around that time, including the beginnings of an illness that would affect the rest of his life.

“I was working long hours, Kara had broken up with me, I was down in the dumps, and I got sick,” he said.

LaPlante was two days away from qualifying for health insurance, and he held off getting help. When he was diagnosed, it turned out he had strep throat. That developed into a kidney infection. He recovered, but during another illness in 1995, doctors discovered that his kidneys were failing.

Fast forward to the fall of 2009. John LaPlante’s kidneys were functioning at 14 percent, and his doctors at Hennepin County Medical Center said it was time for a transplant. Everyone in LaPlante’s family wanted to donate a kidney, but all were rejected, mostly because of high blood pressure. That included Larry, who had been a perfect match when he originally was screened in 2005.

It appeared that LaPlante’s only option was to be placed on the medical center’s waiting list for donors — then at 80,000 people, with an approximate wait of two years.

“I was getting pretty down in the dumps about all of this because it was getting to be ground zero here, and all of a sudden I didn’t have a donor,” LaPlante recalled.

That was when he had what started as a casual conversation with Raymond at Hallett, where they both still worked.

“I said, ‘I hear Larry can’t do this anymore,’ ” Raymond recounted. “I said, ‘Can anybody do it?’ ”

She remembered that LaPlante said jokingly: “ ‘Why, you thinking about it?’ … And I go, ‘Well, maybe.’ ”

For a non-family member — let alone a former girlfriend — to donate a kidney would be “a pretty big gift,” LaPlante said. At best, he figured she’d need a few weeks to think about it.

But by the next day, Raymond had the screenings lined up. Three weeks later, she was approved to donate a kidney to LaPlante.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Diane LaPlante, 53, who married John in 1994.

Raymond joked that she couldn’t believe it, either. “I thought, Yeah, I never knew I was that healthy,” she said. “Dammit!”

In reality, Raymond said, she had no reservations. The LaPlantes had treated her like family. Her mind was made up. “The guy I was dating at the time, he says, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ And I said, ‘I wouldn’t have gone and gotten tested if I wasn’t sure.’ ”

Raymond said she didn’t feel nervous until she went into the Hennepin County Medical Center operating room on Jan. 5 of last year. LaPlante felt the nervousness before that. “The whole thing was scary,” he said.

But the transplant went smoothly, and Raymond was back at work that Friday. For LaPlante, it was a difficult three-month stay in Minneapolis, during which he depended heavily on Diane.

“She was my rock,” he said. “Kara’s the angel here; Diane is the rock. Because my original plan was to stay down there by myself and take care of myself, and there’s no way I could have.”

LaPlante knows that if he hadn’t gotten the transplant, he would be on dialysis now, and unable to work.

The difference between a kidney transplant and dialysis is the difference between night and day, said Jenny Bodner, in-patient coordinator for kidney transplants at Hennepin County Medical Center. For most, dialysis means three to four hours hooked up to a machine every other day, and the process may leave them nauseous, lacking appetite and generally wiped out. “For most people, it’s a horrible life,” she said.

There have been a few bumps along the way since his transplant, LaPlante said. He went through rejection episodes in June and July, but the kidney survived both. His return to work in June was interrupted by those incidents, but he has been back at work since August. Hallett was supportive throughout the ordeal, he said, and he praised the doctors, nurses and staff who cared for him.

He’s also thankful for health insurance. The nine injections he received during his second rejection episode in July cost a total of $63,000. The medicine he takes — 19 pills every morning, 16 at night — costs $1,300 a month. That’s down considerably, LaPlante said, thanks to a generic equivalent that came out for one of the drugs.

He’ll be taking most of those pills the rest of his life. “A kidney transplant is not a cure,” LaPlante said. “It’s a treatment option, but a pretty darn good one.”

And like her husband, Diane LaPlante is thankful for the woman who made that possible.

“Make sure you get in the paper that Kara’s my angel,” she said.

Daughter Jenna is 31 years old and was on dialysis.
7/17 She received a kidney from a living donor.
Please email us: kidney4jenna@gmail.com
Facebook for Jenna: https://www.facebook.com/WantedKidneyDonor
~ We are forever grateful to her 1st donor Patrice, who gave her 7 years of health and freedom


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