St. Paul student's kidney donation chain saves 3 lives - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

St. Paul student's kidney donation chain saves 3 lives

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One selfless act can make a big difference in the lives of countless people, and that is certainly true when it comes to giving the gift of life. An 8-year-old boy is alive today because a law student in St. Paul decided to start a kidney donation chain.

At his young age, Zach Elsenpeter is full of non-stop energy and is always on the go. Yet, less than a year ago, the second-grader could not do the things he's doing now.

"It was horrible to watch him decline every single day," Stacey Elsenpeter told FOX 9 News. "We didn't know how much longer he had left."

Stacey Elsenpeter knew her son was deteriorating due to kidney failure. For three years, they searched for a donor, but Zach had just a 3 percent chance of finding a match.

"We had over 2,000 people call in to save his life, and we could not find a match," she recalled.

That's when an anonymous, out-of-state donor came through, but the man never would have met Zach without Andy Halverson's selfless act of giving.

"I was just doing my part," she told FOX 9 News.

Long before a man named Brett made his decision to donate to Zach, Halverson, a law student at William Mitchell College, decided she wanted to make a difference by becoming an anonymous donor.

"Once I found out that you could live just fine with one kidney, I was baffled more people don't donate," she said. "It became something that seemed right to me."

Her match was Brett's brother, Bruce. In return for saving his brother, Brett returned the favor by donating his own kidney. Soon, Stacey Elsenpeter would donate hers as well, and the triangle would be complete.

"I think of Andy every day," Stacey Elsenpeter said. "She is the one who started this. She is the one that saved Zachary. I know Brett gave him the kidney, but Andy started the kidney pair exchange, and without her, my son would not be sitting here today."

Thankfully, he is -- and he's back doing what 8-year-olds should do.

Halverson is back on her feet too. After missing a semester of law school, she's hard at work hitting the books and is looking forward to spreading the word about organ donations.

"It's hard to explain, but for me, it was just about what was just right," Halverson said. "Giving of one's self to make a life improved -- to save a life -- seemed worth it to me."

That single act led to three people being saved. On the day Zach went into surgery to get his kidney, his mother donated the kidney that ended up saving a 15-year-old Minnesotan.

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