Neighbors: Moorhead man’s medical woes after tractor accident were cured by sister’s organ donations

Robert "Bob" Nelson's health has dramatically improved since his sister, Becky Rude, donated a kidney and half of her pancreas. Special to The Forum

It’s a situation that Robert “Bob” Nelson, Moorhead, has been dealing with for six decades.

It was 61 years ago that he was run over by a tractor. That farm accident crushed his kidneys, pancreas and pelvic area. And he was only 5.

He spent the next six months in the hospital, forcing him to miss his entire first year of kindergarten.

When he turned 13, his pancreas gave out and he developed Type 1 diabetes.

“For 33 years,” Bob writes in answer to Neighbors’ request for information, “I endured diabetes, taking three shots a day, and the diet that went along with it, watching the sugar and carbs.


“Through the years, diabetes took a toll on my organs, including my eyes and what was remaining of my crushed kidneys, plus my toes. I had to go on dialysis. For six months, I had dialysis three times a week; each was a 3 ½-hour session. I felt lousy.

“But during this time, we started researching our options,” he says. And one of those options centered around his sister, Becky Rude.

Becky, from Crookston, Minn., who taught dietetics at the University of North Dakota, had been to a seminar at which she heard about live kidney and pancreas transplants being done at the University of Minnesota.

“We started checking it out,” Bob says, “and found my siblings all matched, but Becky was the best match.”

So, on Nov. 20, 1998, Becky donated one of her kidneys and half of her pancreas to her brother.

12-hour operation

The surgery was performed at Fairview-University Medical Center, Minneapolis, becoming the 25th such surgery to be done there. Dr. David Sutherland led the 12-hour procedure.

That transplant surgery is rare, as most kidneys potentially can fail due to diabetes, Bob says.

“With diabetes being hereditary, they don’t want to take a pancreas from a living relative because the patient could end up with diabetes. But they traced my family roots way back and there was no trace of diabetes in our family. With mine caused by an accident, they knew it could be successful.


“It was a surgery that was meant to be,” he says, “as Becky had extra arteries to her kidney, so they were able to connect my kidney with an extra artery; also, her pancreas was 1 ½ times as big as a normal pancreas.”

The bottom line was that the surgery was a success.

“Becky recovered well and went home fairly soon,” Bob says. “But as she was leaving, I started not feeling so well. I started swelling up, and it took a few days before they could operate on me again, as the white blood count hadn’t gone up. Once that skyrocketed, they knew they were dealing with an infection. The half pancreas developed a leak and was dripping poison into my stomach. So I spent another four weeks in the hospital fighting the infection.

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“I went home to Moorhead at Christmas. I followed up with Dr. Thomas Ahlin at MeritCare (now Sanford) for labs, follow-up visits, etc.

“I recovered well, and now all the doctors through the last 20 years have said I have been like a ‘rock’; I have had no rejections, lab tests have been excellent and I have not taken an insulin shot since my surgery.

“Now, at age 66, I am enjoying life,” he says. “I recently retired as a plant manager at CHS in Glyndon, Minn., and can relax and enjoy the moment.

“I thank my sister and God for this special Gift of Life.”


And, Bob says, “I thank everyone who wishes to be a donor.

“I encourage everyone to be a donor if they can.”

Robert "Bob" Nelson and his wife, Sue. Special to The Forum

The family

Bob and his wife Sue were married in 1973. Sue works part time as a seamstress and has an alteration business in her and Bob’s home.

The Nelsons have three children.

Their son, Darin Nelson, is finance director for the city of Shakopee, Minn., and lives in Chaska, Minn. He and his wife Heather have two daughters, Abby and Avery.

Another son, Ryan Nelson, is retired from the Moorhead Police Department and now is director of public safety at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He and his wife Suzy live in Moorhead and have two children, Regan and Ryan.


The Nelsons’ daughter, Kimberly Savageau, is Clay County’s recorder. She and her husband, Chris, live in Glyndon, Minn., and have three children: Callie, Kannon and Cade.

Bob says he had “no quality of life for all those years when my children were growing up, but now I can enjoy them and the grandchildren.”

And that’s all thanks, he says, to God, modern surgery procedures and his sister.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email

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