By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
A surgical procedure Linda Kuhlman underwent in 1975 caused life-threatening problems in her body that went undiscovered for 25 years. But due to the generosity of organ donors, she celebrates each day as a gift.
Kuhlman, who now lives south of Osakis, had a
jujunoileal bypass in 1975 to reduce her weight from a high of 300 pounds. Fast forward to the 1990s, when she started feeling unwell. Despite going to the doctor repeatedly, she was told every time that there was nothing wrong with her.
In January 2000, her belly swelled to such an extent that the hospital staff pumped 30 pounds of fluid from her body. She requested a specific test she had heard of for people in her situation and had to pay for it herself.
“It still wasn’t until months later at Mayo in Rochester that I found out I had cirrhosis of the liver,” Kuhlman said. “There was such a rapid weight loss after the bypass that my liver could not process the fat fast enough, causing fatty liver disease.”
She was placed on the transplant list in 2000. “The medications sustained me for nine years,” she said.
Over Memorial Day weekend in 2009, Kuhlman fell while shopping and broke her hip. Soon after her three-month rehabilitative nursing home stay, she found out her kidneys were failing.
“Twice a week the fluid was drained from my abdomen, about 15-20 pounds each time,” she said.
In November 2009, Kuhlman’s liver failed and she nearly died while waiting for a match.
“The new liver was not healthy, but it was a perfect match. I was dying and it gave me time to wait for a healthy liver,” she said.
Five months later that liver failed, after Kuhlman had been on kidney dialysis for four months..
At 7 a.m. on Easter Sunday 2010, while staying at the Gift of Life transplant house in Rochester, she was notified that a liver and a kidney (which needed to be from the same donor) were available for her.
“The morning I was called about my liver and kidney being available, other residents at Gift of Life were called to receive a heart, a pancreas and the donor’s other kidney,” she said. “And I’m a donor now too.”
Six weeks after that second transplant, over Memorial Day weekend 2010, she fell face first onto a lawn and broke her neck.
“It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to break my fall by even putting my arms out,” she said.
By October 2010, Kuhlman had the neck brace off and was ready to marry Jerry, who had come into her life in 2008 and had been her caregiver through the surgeries.
“Even if I’d known in 1975 that having that first surgery would cause all this, I would have had it anyway; I would not erase any of it,” said Kuhlman. “This whole experience has taught me so much. The compassion that rises up is amazing. God put something in me to get me through this.”
Kuhlman never once questioned where she was physically. “I trusted God for the outcome,” she said, “no matter what I saw or heard or felt.”
Two years after her second transplant and broken neck, Kuhlman is thriving.
“When I think back on the experience, I think of the opportunities to help other people,” she said.
Kuhlman, who has been in women’s ministry for 40 years as a speaker and retreat facilitator, saw people needing encouragement everywhere she went.
“In one of the three Life Flights to Mayo, the nurse with me was so down that I talked with her the entire time,” said Kuhlman. “When we got to Mayo she told me she was so happy to have been on the flight with me.”
Every day in the hospitals or nursing homes there were nurses who needed encouragement. Kuhlman would pray at the door to every room on the floors as she took walks.
Her daughter Geniece spent much time with her in Rochester, and they prayed for the people whose deaths meant someone else could live, that they would be prepared to walk into eternity.
“We prayed constantly for the family members to be comforted, knowing that the life lost gives life to other people,” said Kuhlman.
After being so near death before each transplant, and nearly dying during the second transplant surgery, Kuhlman knows each day is a gift.
“God thought I was worth saving three times; my work here is not done,” she said.
Kuhlman wants people to know how important it is to consider being a donor.
“One organ donor can help as many as 60 people through organs, tissue and eyes,” Kuhlman said. “As many as 18,000 people die every day while waiting for a transplant.
“I’ve walked with God for 40 years,” she said, “and now I can continue to serve him and encourage other people.”