Patient stories

A “Lucky” Donor Shares the Gift of Life and Love

March 24, 2023, 3:39pm EDT

photo of Jeff

Written by: Jennifer Cramer-Miller


When Jeff Piotraschke heard Mallory Olson, Executive Director of the National Kidney Foundation (Serving Minnesota), speak to employees at his workplace, Northern Tool & Equipment, he sat forward in his seat. Her topic? The Circle of Excellence: a no-cost company recognition program that celebrates employers offering paid leave to employees who become living donors. 

This subject hit close to Jeff’s heart because less than a year ago, he saved his sister, Kathy, by donating his kidney. 

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) runs in the Piotraschke family. After doctors diagnosed Jeff’s father with this inherited disease, Jeff and his siblings (a twin brother and three older sisters) tested for the condition. That’s when his oldest sister Kathy learned she shared the PKD diagnosis with her father.

When Kathy’s kidney function declined, Jeff’s middle sister Debbie rallied the family to consider donation and fill out a survey at M Health Fairview. Jeff jumped into action. 

Sarah Bernard, Jeff’s Living Donor Nurse Transplant Coordinator (along with entire M Health Fairview team) reassured Jeff that his health was their top priority. 

“I knew they would never recommend I go forward with donation if there was any outside risk that would put me in jeopardy,” Jeff explained.

Fourteen appointments, consultations with social workers, physicians, and surgeons kicked off in August 2021. “Seventy tests later,” Jeff jokes, “but who’s counting,” he remained gung-ho to help.

In March 2022, his benevolent dream came true when he answered Sarah’s call on the way home from vacation at the Jamaica airport. 

“Sarah said she had very good news. You’ve been approved as a direct donor for your sister. I went to the moon and back in that moment.” 

Then Jeff called Kathy immediately, and she cried tears of joy. 

Jeff’s boss at Northern Tool & Equipment (where he is an IT Security Audit and Compliance Manager) wholeheartedly supported his donation decision. So Sarah provided information about the Kidney Registry, a non-profit organization that provides funds to offset costs for living donors. 

After he talked to his HR department, however, he discovered he could not receive any funds to offset his donation costs until he used all his vacation time.

That financial arrangement was do-able for Jeff but planted this concern: what if the same situation could make or break the living donor decision for someone else?

Jeff’s donation and Kathy’s transplant surgery took place on June 28th, 2022. Today, Kathy carries her brother’s love and kidney, and she’s doing remarkably well. As is Jeff. Quick to express his gratitude for the support of his wife, Sherry, Jeff said, “She was with me throughout this entire adventure. It meant everything to me, and I couldn’t have done it without her.”

To his surprise, Jeff feels even better now than he did before his donation. His gift boomeranged. “I knew I’d help Kathy,” he explained, “but I didn’t know there would be side benefits for my wife and me.” Today, Jeff and Sherry focus more on brain health with regular exercise, healthy eating, and a shift to more plant-based recipes.

Jeff’s intention to improve Kathy’s health became the catalyst for his own self-improvement. 

Sharing a friendly manner and upbeat tone, Jeff describes himself as “lucky” to have experienced living donation. Which circles us back to Mallory’s Circle of Excellence presentation for Northern Tool. Jeff’s motivation aligns with the NKF to spread the word, address potential obstacles for others to choose living donation, and make living donation more accessible. 

Jeff spent many years in law enforcement prior to his work at Northern Tool & Equipment, and he has seen his fair share of difficult life events. “My law enforcement career forged my outlook on life,” he said. “Everything can change so quickly, so you have to live for today and make it happen. I believe positive vibes make a difference.”  

Jeff and his wife Sherry enhance their days with gardening, travel, fly-fishing, and a shared love of racehorses. I’m betting his sister Kathy, living well with Jeff’s kidney donation, fully agrees that her brother’s make-it-happen and positive-vibes-nature makes quite a difference indeed.