For a year-and-a-half, Donald Beck had been waiting to receive a new kidney. His own was failing him, functioning at only about 10 percent.
With the encouragement of his nephrologist at Sanford Health, Michael LeBeau, M.D., Beck had added his name to the transplant list. He was hopeful but prepared to wait years for a match to be found.
In the meantime, he and his wife, Mary, adjusted to life with dialysis — first at home and then three times a week at the Sanford Dialysis Center in Bismarck, North Dakota.
During these appointments, which typically ran more than four hours, the Becks developed a special relationship with their medical team.
“When you spend so much time with the same people three times a week, you can’t help but form a bond,” Mary Beck said. “It was just like going to visit extended family.”
Donald Beck also struck a friendship with a fellow dialysis patient, Donald Axt. The two men were old acquaintances, having both lived their lives in central North Dakota, working in the farming business.
But even as they got to know each other better, they could never have guessed how connected their lives were about to become.
A match is found
In the early hours of May 27, 2014, the Becks were awoken by a phone call from the hospital. A potential match had been found.
“It was very emotional,” Mary Beck said. “When they called that night, he had to decide right then and there whether to accept the kidney.”
Donald Beck did accept, and the couple made their way from their home in Anamoose, North Dakota, to the Sanford Transplant Center in Bismarck, where he was prepared for surgery.
The transplant was successful, and by that night, Donald Beck left the operating room with a new kidney.
From tragedy, a blessing
In the days that followed, as Donald Beck recovered, he learned the startling identity of his donor. Her name was Diedre Jill Axt — Donald Axt’s daughter. At 33 years old, she had died as a result of a car accident.
Donald Axt invited the Becks to attend his daughter’s memorial service and meet the rest of the family. They were touched by the opportunity.
“They all gave me a hug and told me I was part of their family,” Donald Beck said. “I feel like I really am.”
The gift of life
While they still struggle to find words to express their gratitude, the Becks found a special, enduring way to honor the Axts.
Through the Sanford Health Foundation, they made a gift to the Sanford Kidney Dialysis Center in memory of Donald Axt, who passed away later that same year, and to the Sanford Kidney Transplant Program in memory of Deidre Jill Axt.
“Our hope is that the dollars are used to continue helping others,” Mary Beck said. “It is very important, especially for our rural community, to have these services and facilities close by. They’re lifesaving and life-sustaining.”