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Season of Thanks

Seven Minnesotans share their stories of hardship—and how those challenges shaped them for the better

Season of Thanks

(page 3 of 4)

Up In Smoke

Jen Augustson, Edina

On February 23, 2010, I was at work when a neighbor called to say there’d been a gas leak and a huge explosion in our neighborhood. She thought it was our house. I was in shock.

A coworker was driving me home when my husband, who was on a business trip to Amsterdam, called. He said, “The vet just called and said they have the dog. They said she was okay but a little burned. What’s going on?”

What was going on was this: Our house had blown up. Our dog, Grete, the only living thing in the house at the time, had been launched through a window by the explosion. A passerby had taken her to the vet. When I got to my neighborhood, the police had set up a secure perimeter. An officer confirmed that everything was gone.

After the explosion, neighbors immediately—before I had time to process the fact that we no longer had any material possessions—started offering me things, asking “What size are you?” “Can we bring you dinner?”

I knew the most important things were okay: our five-year-old was at school, and our two-year-old was at my mom’s house. Still, all our possessions were gone. Most could be replaced by insurance, but some, like the homemade Christmas stockings and the letter with handwritten notes from Senator Wellstone, could not.

As sad as I was to lose those belongings, I was buoyed by the people who quickly rallied to support us. Even complete strangers came forward, like the high-school student who collected toys, clothes, and household items.

For the first few weeks afterward, we lived with my parents. Today, we live in a town home while our new house is being built on the site of the old one. We should be able to move in by January.

What happened to us was just plain bad luck, and while I would never say I’m glad it happened, losing everything gave me a new appreciation for life, for community, and for the small kindnesses people are capable of.

I’m thankful no one was hurt. I’m thankful our dog escaped. And I’m thankful for the new perspective on life this tragedy gave me. That said, it’s painfully clear that things aren’t fair for everyone. When we lost our house, we had a strong support network; not everybody has that. I hope someday I can pay it forward—spread some of the good luck we experienced to those who need it more than we ever did.

Flesh and Blood

Joel Carlson, Vadnais Heights

I had heard about kidney donors, but I didn’t know you could donate a kidney to someone you didn’t know. One day, I got a mailing from the Kidney Foundation, explaining the tragedy of kidney disease and showing statistics about how many people were on the waiting list for donor kidneys. Then, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from the organization. I still don’t know how they got my address.

A month or two later, my wife and I were watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy about kidney donation. She turned to me and said, “You’ve got to look into this. It seems like you are being asked to do something.”

I got in touch with the University of Minnesota Medical Center’s transplant program and met with the director. I did the paperwork, got the blood test. Not long after, they called to say they’d located a person I’d be a match for if I wanted to go ahead. I talked it over with my wife and four kids. Knowing our children are healthy and don’t have kidney problems, we made the decision for me to be an anonymous donor. I went through a battery of mental and physical tests, and on February 25, 2009, I had the surgery.

I was in the hospital for two days afterward, but it took a solid month to recover. A week after surgery, I was moaning and groaning, and my wife said, “Just remember, you made this choice. It was not about you, and now you are making it about you.” It refocused my attention as to why I did what I did. I didn’t complain again.

I have received two letters from the man who received my kidney. He’s in his fifties, a grandfather. He was in failing health and on dialysis for three years before the surgery; now, he said he was doing phenomenally. He calls me his “second-life partner.”

I would do it again if I could. It’s been extremely gratifying to see someone’s life transformed. It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s one person whose life is better because of me.

I’m thankful this man is doing so well. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to make this donation. It gave him a second chance at life, and it gave me a chance to live the kind of life I was supposed to lead.

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