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Duo’s love deepens with kidney transplant

September 23
01:40 2010

EDWARDS, Colo.: Joy Birmingham didn’t think twice about donating her kidney to her boyfriend.

“I would do it for anyone close to my heart,” she said.

She and her boyfriend, Avon resident Brian Gilbertson, had a kidney transplant at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.

The couple started dating on New Year’s Day and had only been together for a few months when Birmingham, 29, discovered she was a match to donate her kidney. They both work for Colorado Mountain Express.

People in the community have been quick to rally around the couple.
“It’s a true love story,” coworker Maggie Silvers said.

About 100 people came to a fundraiser for the couple on Sept. 9 at E-town in Edwards. The event raised about $2,600. Gilbertson said the money will help with any medical expenses his insurance doesn’t cover. The money will also go toward living expenses while he and Birmingham, who lives in Dillon, are recovering.

Gilbertson, 35, has a condition called IGA nephropathy.

“Essentially, my body is attacking my kidneys as if they were foreign,” he said.
The 12-year Vail Valley resident said he often felt tired but never suspected he had such a serious condition.

In 2007, he went to the doctor for a head cold and discovered he had extremely high blood pressure. The doctor urged him to look deeper into the problem.

Gilbertson was heading to Alaska for the summer to work as a rafting guide. After seeing a doctor in Haines, he got a biopsy done in Anchorage. The results took him by surprise.

“Immediately when I found out, I thought: ‘My life is over,”’ he said.

In January 2008, doctors placed him on a waiting list for a transplant from a deceased donor.

Meanwhile, several family members and friends agreed to get tested to see if they were a match for a live donation.

Gilbertson said his kidney function had dwindled to about 20 percent by the time he received his diagnosis. Over the past three years, it has declined to about 14 percent. The transplant is mostly a preventive measure, Gilbertson said. Without the surgery, he would eventually have to go on dialysis.

Doctors have told Gilbertson that he’ll be able to live a normal life after the transplant, although he’ll have to be a bit more cautious.

“It kind of feels like a fresh start,” he said.




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