Bruce, chief diversity officer and senior officer at a private college in Minnesota, has always had a great love of life. In his early 20s, that great love also included food and Bruce gained a significant amount of weight as a result. By the time he reached the age of 40, Bruce weighed 400 pounds. Ready to turn things around, Bruce took steps to embrace a healthier lifestyle and lost almost 200 pounds. Unfortunately, Bruce’s change for the better did not come soon enough.
Just five years after achieving his target weight, Bruce found himself in end-stage renal failure. He had to begin a rigorous dialysis routine that, after two years, left him feeling hopeless. A kidney transplant was the only answer. Determined to live for his three children, Bruce began his quest to find a living donor.
Between his big family and the many groups he belonged to, Bruce was sure that someone would quickly step up to be the living kidney donor that he needed. He was surprised when it did not go quite the way he had planned. In talking to people in the African American community, he found that a lack of information about organ donation was creating fear about the topic. Aware that health issues affecting organ function often disproportionately impact people of color, Bruce felt compelled to start promoting education about donation for the sake of all those who might need an organ transplant some day.
Without a new kidney, Bruce remained dependent on dialysis with no end in sight. Unbeknownst to him, Jim, the president of the university where he was working at the time, had heard about Bruce’s situation and quietly went to get tested to see if he could be Bruce’s living donor.
Bruce vividly recalls being stuck inside a dialysis center on a beautiful Friday afternoon in May when he got an unexpected phone call. It was Jim, and he had good news: he was a prefect match for Bruce and wanted to give him one of his kidneys. Bruce graciously accepted Jim’s offer, and his story had a happy ending — but it wasn’t the ending he had predicted.
“Like a lot of people, I thought that African Americans could only donate to African Americans and that your ultimate match could only come from someone who looks like you and has the same ethnic cultural heritage that you do,” says Bruce.
While clinical research has shown that successful transplantation often is enhanced by the matching of organs between members of the same ethnic and racial group, this wasn’t the case for Bruce. “It turns out that my match was an older white man from South Dakota, and he very generously donated one of his kidneys and saved my life.”
It has been eight years since Bruce received the kidney that restored his health and enabled him to resume normal living. He is grateful for his donor’s gift every day, and he continues to spread the word about donation within his community.
“Organ donation,” says Bruce, “is one way that ordinary people can become extraordinary people.”