The Art of Sharing

A friendship takes two women on a life-giving and life-saving journey.

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By Kathleen Childers

RICHLAND CENTER, WISCONSIN—To say that longtime friends Karen Gilbertson and Julie Anderson have mastered the art of sharing would be an understatement. Together, they attend Church of the Nazarene, do fundraisers and travel. They’ve been housemates for 20 years, and they both work in health care.

Recently, the women took their sharing to a new level: They were part of a life-saving and life-giving kidney exchange program. The journey to this point began 10 years ago, when Anderson developed kidney disease.

Over the years, as Anderson’s condition worsened, Gilbertson was there to support her. She took on more responsibility around the house, from chores and cooking, to driving Anderson to appointments when she could. And she prayed for Anderson.

“I was here for her,” Gilbertson says, “as was our church family and, most importantly, the Lord.”

About a year and a half ago, Anderson was facing kidney failure. She was put on a list to receive a new kidney. “That process took about six months,” she says, “and involved getting lots of labs done, making sure I was ready.”

Gilbertson volunteered to give Anderson one of her kidneys, but she wasn’t a match. In the process of being tested, however, she learned about a “paired exchange” program at the University of Wisconsin. If she donated a kidney for someone else, Julie would be assured of getting a kidney from a live donor (a kidney from a live person increases chances of success). Both of them enrolled. Matches were quickly found for each of them. And they had their surgeries just one day apart, so they were in the hospital at the same time, cheering on each other.

Within 12 hours of the surgery, Anderson felt like a new woman and that continues today. Every day, she says, she’s filled with gratitude for her blessings, including her friendship with Gilbertson, the community that has helped her and her restored health.

“So many things that happened in the process are the hand of God,” Gilbertson says.

Anderson agrees. “I can’t place it anywhere else.”