Transplant a lesson in life

Darreld Petersen and Nancy Bleuer
Darreld Petersen and Nancy Bleuer

Preschool teacher donates kidney to student’s father

When Darreld Petersen of Mason City, Iowa, learned he would need a kidney transplant after years living with kidney disease, he was cautioned that it could take months, even years, before a suitable donor organ was available.

Then "Miss Nancy" stepped forward.

Nancy Bleuer of nearby Clear Lake—a 54-year-old preschool teacher in Mason City known as "Miss Nancy" to her students and their parents—offered to donate one of her kidneys almost immediately after learning about Darreld's condition. The two were acquainted but not close; Darreld's 4-year-old son, Camden, was a student in Nancy's classroom.

"I had a co-worker who, years ago, had donated a kidney to someone in her church," Nancy says. "It was an important part of her life's journey, and that was inspirational to me. I'd wondered how I would respond if such an opportunity to help someone else came up. When I heard about Darreld and Camden's situation, it just felt like the right thing to do."

Darreld, 34, was diagnosed in 2010 with IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger's disease, which occurs when an antibody called IgA (immunoglobulin A) builds up in the kidneys, causing tissue-damaging inflammation. 

By late 2016, Darreld had reached full kidney failure. He was hospitalized for a week in Mason City and began dialysis treatments at a local facility—three days a week, four hours each day. He also was placed on a waiting list for a kidney transplant at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

"I had friends and family come forward who wanted to donate, but these didn't work out, for medical reasons or other reasons," Darreld says. "Then Miss Nancy approached me."

Darreld admits he was unsure at first, but Nancy was adamant. 

"She was like, ‘I want to donate. What do I have to do?'" he says.

After initial paperwork and blood tests, Nancy learned she was a donor match in January 2017. Over the next several months she underwent numerous tests at UI Hospitals & Clinics—additional blood work plus urinalysis, CT and EKG exams, and psychological counseling to confirm she was medically able and emotionally prepared to be a kidney donor.

Nancy remembers Darreld's expression when she shared news of the final go-ahead at the preschool in early May.

"He looked stunned at first," she laughs. "It took a minute to sink in, but then he hugged me and I knew: OK, he gets it!"

On June 1, Nancy and Darreld arrived at UI Hospitals & Clinics for their respective kidney procedures. The operations—performed by a team that included transplant surgeons Alan Reed, MD; Zoe Stewart Lewis, MD, PhD; and Daniel Katz, MD—went smoothly. Darreld and Nancy each was cleared to go home less than a week after surgery.

"The amazing support I've received—from friends and family, from the dialysis team at Fresenius Kidney Care in Mason City, and even people from other countries who've contacted me and Nancy via social media with get-well wishes—has made this an incredible experience."

"The Iowa transplant team has been so supportive throughout the entire process," Nancy says. "My health and comfort was always addressed. The follow-up care and attention to detail by the transplant coordinators has been tremendous as well. I'll always feel like part of their team."

Darreld hopes his story will raise awareness about the importance of organ donation and also call attention to the UI Transplant Center team.

"I cannot speak enough about the surgeons, the nurses, and all the staff," Darreld says. "Just such a positive and supportive environment. You could tell that every person wanted to be there for you."

Darreld's story also speaks to the selfless commitment of individuals like Nancy.

"How do you ever thank someone for saving your life?" Darreld asks. "She really is an amazing woman."

Learn more about our Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program.