Brothers mark 40th transplant anniversary, thank the staff who made it possible

Tim and Pete Suby
Tim and Pete Suby

Forty years ago, Pete Suby learned he needed a kidney transplant. His younger brother, Tim, was a perfect match. The brothers recently returned to Mayo Clinic to mark the 40th anniversary of the transplant and thank the staff who made the milestone and others like it possible.

Pete Suby thought he had the flu. He'd been exhausted for a while and had recently vomited at work. An appointment at Mayo Clinic would reveal a much more serious reason for his symptoms: Pete's kidneys were failing. He was just 25 years old.

"They couldn't believe I was standing up," says Pete, who went straight to the ICU. It was February 1982.

The news wasn't a complete surprise though. When Pete was in middle school, doctors in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, had diagnosed him with kidney issues. After the Suby family moved to Rochester, Pete had a physical at Mayo Clinic and was told he'd likely need a kidney transplant by the time he was 40.

At the time, 40 seemed a lifetime away.

"I was young, I wasn't thinking that far down the road," Pete says.

Tim and Pete Suby

Now, doctors were telling Pete that he'd need a transplant much sooner —ideally, as soon as possible. In the meantime, he'd need dialysis to do the work his kidneys were no longer capable of.

Fortunately, Pete didn't have to wait too long — or look too far — for a donor.

Spare parts

When Pete's parents called their youngest son to tell him the news about his brother, the offer came quickly.

"I told them, 'He can have one of my kidneys,'" says Tim Suby, who was then in his first year of college at St. Cloud State University. He would do whatever he could to help his big brother. "We were brought up to have each other's backs," Tim says.

Testing proved Tim's kidney was a perfect match for Pete. And on April 22, 1982, Tim gave Pete some of his "spare parts." Tim's first question after waking up after surgery was, "Did it work?"

It did. And, it has continued to work for 40 incredible years.

"We're in rare air," Pete's surgeon,  Sylvester Sterioff Jr., M.D., recently told the Star Tribune newspaper. According to the publication, "only about 30 percent of (transplanted) kidneys lasted 20 or more years."

Pete Suby with Sylvester Sterioff Jr., M.D., and Tim Suby.
Pete Suby with Sylvester Sterioff Jr., M.D., and Tim Suby.

Giving thanks

While the brothers normally mark their transplant anniversary quietly by exchanging phone calls or texts, they decided 40 years was worth celebrating in a bigger way. So this year, they headed to the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center to thank the people who made their milestone and others like it possible.

"We were really blessed to be in Rochester and receive our care at Mayo," Pete says.

That's just one of the many blessings he counts each day.

Part of the reason we wanted to share our story is to encourage people to become organ donors.

Tim Suby

"I wake up every morning and thank God for my life, for my wife and family," Pete says. That includes, of course, his little brother. "I owe everything to Tim. Without him I wouldn't have my three beautiful sons, my four fantastic step kids, or our 15 grandchildren."

Tim says those grandchildren are a living reminder of the good he's done.

"They're part of my legacy, too," Tim says. "I look at his grandkids and I think, 'Hey, I did something right.'"

He and Pete encourage others to do "something right" as well.

"Part of the reason we wanted to share our story is to encourage people to become organ donors," Tim says. "Mark it on your driver's license. Give blood. Sign up for the bone marrow registry. I'd do it all over again if I could."