Woman donates kidney to save life of ex-husband 20 years after divorce

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Divorce can be difficult, even damaging, for many families — but not all. Case in point is a Minnesota couple who have known each other for nearly 50 years since high school. After 22 years of marriage, they’ve spent the past two decades as an amicably divorced couple who have made a conscious decision to “get along” for the good of the family.

And even 20 years after their split, Mary Ziegler had no problem donating one of her kidneys to her ex-husband, Bill Heinrichs, the St. Cloud Times reported.

Friendly split

“We kind of made a commitment at the time to get along,” explained Heinrichs of the divorce. “And to not do anything poorly to each other and to the kids. You know all those bad divorce things, we agreed not to do that.”

Following the divorce, both remarried, but stayed close as they joined forces in raising their children, so much so that they all came together for Thanksgiving to celebrate the kidney donation.

“I mean, our kids have always been really proud to tell the story of their mom and dad and their stepmom and dad. But now, I think they were really proud to say, yeah, my mom gave my dad a kidney, and they’re divorced,” said Zeigler.

A donor match

Heinrichs had dealt for some time with kidney failure brought on by diabetes and hypertension, and a search was conducted for a suitable donor to give Heinrichs a healthy kidney.

More than 30 people volunteered, including Heinrichs’ children, and though a couple of matches were discovered, those people were either too young or not healthy enough themselves to make the donation.

It came down to Zeigler, who had maintained good health and fitness her whole life, shared the same blood type and antigens as her ex-husband, and was willing to sacrifice to help save him.

“The universe was just kind of like, you’re the one. I’m a big believer in when you’re tapped on the shoulder, you should answer the call,” she said.

An ex-wife donating a kidney to her ex-husband may sound like a rather unique situation, but Ziegler said the doctors told her that such exchanges are actually more common than some might expect.

“One of the surgeons that I talked to, he said, it’s more common than you think, especially when they’re older like us. And for the same reasons. You share children. You share grandchildren. You’re 60 years old and (know) what’s important in life now. It’s not all the crap that happened before. It’s about the rest of your life,” said Zeigler.

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“I don’t think what I did was too amazing,” Ziegler said, adding that it would have been more difficult to donate “altruistically” to a stranger. “I was thrilled to be able to do it. To do it for, not just him, but for my kids and for Linda, everybody. So, I’m pretty grateful that I did take good care of myself all my life.”

As for Heinrichs, he is still recovering from the addition of a third kidney to compensate for his two bad kidneys, though he is steadily improving and has made a new commitment to better manage his diabetes going forward.

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