Giving for Life
Lee Kreklow will gladly push play to hear the 2-year-old message on his home answering machine. It’s from John Barker of Maple Grove on December 21, 2009—the day Barker began to change Kreklow’s life.
“One old message,” says the ubiquitous robotic prelude.
You can sense Kreklow getting excited.
“Hey Lee, this is John Barker. … I want to know what I have to go through to become a donor. …”
It’s not a riveting performance from Barker—more information gathering than entertaining—but it’s the most beautiful sound to Kreklow, who had a genetic disease that called for a prompt kidney transplant. Fifteen possible kidney donors had stepped up to see if they matched. Fifteen were denied. Barker was lucky No. 16.
Both men believe God put them together. Barker was visiting his sick father on Thanksgiving 2009 in his hometown of Tigerton, Wis. Barker was out in the yard as Kreklow and his daughters approached.
The Kreklows were making their annual neighborhood rounds delivering Thanksgiving and Christmas goodies. It’s a traditionally joyous experience for the Kreklows, but Lee’s illness kept him out of the kitchen. “I had no energy,” Kreklow says. “I didn’t want to get out of bed.” He mustered enough strength to deliver cookies and a giving Christian spirit.
Barker and Kreklow got to know each other. Kreklow shared details of his illness and the need for a kidney. Kreklow didn’t think much of mentioning it.
As the Barkers drove back to Maple Grove that weekend, John mentioned to his wife, Elizabeth, the idea of donating. “I told her the story about him and how I really want to help this guy,” John Barker says. “I was really touched by his strength. To be going through what he was going through.” About a month later, Barker left the voice message.
Barker went through a battery of tests, including an evaluation with a social worker and CAT scans. Were his wife and two daughters on board with John’s volunteerism? Elizabeth was encouraging throughout the process, and only became apprehensive just before surgery.
“Once I was a match, she got a little scared about the whole process,” John Barker says. “It’s a pretty serious surgery. My family was very supportive, but they were very concerned about the impact it would have on me.”
As tests were conducted on Barker, Kreklow was getting worse and staving off dialysis. “I kept getting sicker and sicker,” he says.
On July 1, 2010, more than seven months since the voice message, John Barker and Lee Kreklow had surgery. Kreklow’s body immediately accepted the new kidney.
“I raised both fists to the sky and said, ‘Thank you, God,’ ” Kreklow says. “Until you get to that spot, you don’t know how wonderful it is.”
Barker, however, wasn’t feeling so well. “It was more painful that I thought it would be,” Barker says. “It was kind of shocking. I am a triathlete. I was expecting to whip through this.”
Barker checked on Kreklow’s condition and took solace in his good reports.
“They had us up walking around and I could barely make it to the end of the hall,” Barker says. “He was not just walking around the hall, but the whole wing. He was amazing.”
Barker needed more time—years, in fact—to return to triathlons. In July, he completed the Life Time Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis. Setbacks in training were hard, but his experience with Kreklow has changed his outlook.
“I look at things differently,” Barker says, “and I really value life.”
John Barker’s selfless act doesn’t surprise Pastor Steven Briel of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hamel, where the Barkers are regulars.
“He is a genuinely nice guy,” Briel says.
Kreklow would concur. He has audio to prove it.
Barker’s Organ Donor Advice:
1. Do your homework. “Make sure you get all the information up front.”
2. Prepare for the interruption. “You are going to be off of work.”
3. Pain before gain. “You are going to have to put up with some discomfort.”
4. Donating an organ can bring a new outlook on life.
If you are interested in donating, Barker recommends the Hennepin County Medical Center. “They have a really great donor program.”
Contact HCMC’s transplant coordinator Eugenia Steffens at 612.873.7705.
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