It’s 5:30 AM when Lori McMillan Depauw and her sister, Mary McMillan Rivera, arrive to check in at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. In just a few hours, they will go into surgery where doctors will transplant one of Mary’s kidneys into Lori.

But the journey that brought them here goes back many years. They grew up watching their father struggle with polycystic kidney disease.

Lori says, “I watched my Dad suffer through dialysis. It was not a real good experience.”

And in 1990, Lori’s mother donated a kidney to him, in a surgery that was, at the time, very new and much more invasive than modern surgical techniques. Jane McMillan says, “When I donated to him they actually removed two ribs from my back and I have a really long scar. It was much more extensive than it is now.” 

Lori’s father’s body would eventually reject the kidney and lived ten more years on dialysis before passing away.

Lori eventually decided to pursue the demanding career of law enforcement, joining the Loves Park Police department in 1992.

But as years went by, it became clear the genetic disease that afflicted her father had been passed on to her. In 2006, cysts were found on her kidneys and in 2010 her worst fears were confirmed: she had inherited polycystic kidney disease. It became obvious she would need a kidney transplant.

Lori’s kidney function was declining to dangerously low levels, especially considering the average wait time for a kidney donation is 3-5 years.

“No way would I have lasted that long. I would have had to go on dialysis.” says Lori. “I can’t work when I’m on dialysis.

But finding a suitable kidney donor would be her biggest challenge. Her husband Steve and several friends were tested but no one was a close enough match. Then her sister Mary was tested and the family waited for the results. 

Mary got a call from the clinic. “She said call me right away when you get this message. So I thought ‘Oh, now this is not good news.’ And I called her and she actually started crying and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re a six out of six match. They approved you and you’re good to go.”

Which brings us back to Mayo Clinic on a crisp fall day in October. Lori and Mary will both go into surgery so one can give the other the gift of life, using medical technology far more advanced than was available when her father had his transplant.

Dr. Mikel Prieto, Mayo Transplantation Surgeon, says, “Instead of doing the old fashioned big incision where you take a rib out and do a fairly big cut in the side to take the kidney out, now we can do this with basically looking at a TV monitor, using very (small) laparoscopic instruments. You still have to make a little bit of an incision to get the kidney out of body, but otherwise, essentially the donors are typically one to two days in the hospital. Their recovery is a lot better than it used to be years ago.”

And that’s what Mary is hoping for as she prepares to donate a kidney to Lori. Both know Lori still faces a long road, but they still find time to smile over the fact it was Mary who proved to be Lori’s lifesaving match. Lori says, “We are complete opposites. I’m very ‘get to the point’. She’s more organized than me, but I’m meaner than she is.”