Jake Knutson had his eye on the ball. So he didn't notice a player he was coaching who was off to the side practicing his swing. "I was running for a ball and he clocked me on his backswing," Jake says. "I knew right away that my jaw was broken." A trip to the emergency department at Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse would confirm Jake's suspicion. But he'd soon be blindsided by something more serious.
"My blood pressure was very high," Jake, who'd just graduated from La Crescent-Hokah High School, tells us. "At first they thought it was because of the pain." But his blood pressure didn't come down, and Jake was eventually transferred to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. There, testing revealed the real culprit: stage 4 kidney failure caused by glomerulonephritis. Doctors informed Jake he would need a transplant. "My kidney function was 9 percent. I had no idea I was sick," Jake says. "They told me in another week or two I would have died. That kid hitting me in the face was a true blessing."
Another blessing followed. As soon as Jake's sister, Kaylen, found out her "healthy, athletic baby brother" needed a transplant, "I immediately wanted to donate," she tells us. "He's my everything." After much testing, Kaylen learned she was a compatible match. Which meant her parents, Tanya and Wade, would have two children undergoing surgery on the same day.
"Our transplant coordinator told us, 'We are going to take our best possible care of your children,'" Tanya says. "It was so comforting to hear that. She reassured us that our children were in good hands." Those hands included Jake and Kaylen's "amazing" surgeons, Patrick Dean, M.D., and Mikel Prieto, M.D., as well as countless other staff. "Everyone at Mayo treats you so well," Tanya says. "It feels like every staff member has found their purpose in life."
On Feb. 5, Dr. Prieto carefully removed one of Kaylen's kidneys, which Dr. Dean then placed in her brother. The first time Jake saw Kaylen after surgery, "I kind of just broke down inside because we knew that it all worked out the way it should have," he told WDAZ-TV.
And where it should have. "Mayo Clinic is number one in the world for a reason," Kaylen says. "Not just for high-quality care, but for high-quality tenderness."
The experience has turned the Knutsons into passionate advocates for organ donation. "You don't have to be a living organ donor," Kaylen tells the La Crosse Tribune. "Just sign up. We've met so many people who are struggling and waiting."
The Knutsons say they know how lucky they are that Jake's story has a happy ending. "We are basking in this amazing miracle," Tanya says. "We don't take one minute for granted. You have to count your blessings every day."
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