FARGO - Dean Meyer will always have a piece of his wife with him.

Her kidney.

"Right next to my bladder," he said from his hospital bed. His wife sat at his side, laughing.

"It's not next to my heart or anything," he playfully continued.

"But it's all connected there," said Bonnie Meyer, 56.

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The Bismarck couple had surgery at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo on Tuesday.

They moved away from Fargo about a year ago when Dean, 55, left the Fargo Fire Department for the fire department in Bismarck.

"I've been doctoring for my kidney disease (in Fargo) for 13 years, so when it came time for the kidney transplant, we thought we'd stick with the same doctors," Dean said.

He suffers from chronic interstitial nephritis, which left his kidneys scarred.

About two years ago, Dean thought he'd need a kidney transplant. His sisters were tested and weren't a match for donation, but Bonnie was.

"That's why he married me, you know," she joked.

"Yep, always check your spouse's blood type," Dean said.

They've been married 17 years and didn't know they were a donation match until Bonnie's tests. At that time, Dean's kidneys stabilized, so they waited on the transplant.

After Tuesday's surgery, the Meyers are both out of the hospital.

The Meyers are staying with family in Fargo until Wednesday for several more doctor appointments. Sanford in Fargo is coordinating with the Bismarck Sanford for the couple to continue care there when they return home.

Dean feels lucky he had a kidney donor right away and didn't need to start dialysis treatment.

Dr. Bhargav Mistry, a transplant surgeon who worked with the Meyers, said dialysis artificially performs the function of a kidney, but can either involve a patient visiting a clinic multiple times per week, or being hooked up to a machine at home for hours each night.

It keeps the patient alive, but "the quality and quantity of life is not good," Mistry said.

"A kidney transplant is the best option," he said.

When the Meyers decided the date for their surgery, they didn't know Sanford celebrates National Donate Life Month in April.

Donate Life Month aims to educate people on the importance of organ donation, especially living donation, said Emily Bormann, a Sanford spokeswoman.

Mistry encourages people to mark themselves as organ donors on their driver's licenses, and also encourages living donation.

He said kidneys from living donors last about 15 years, whereas those from deceased donors last seven to eight years.

Another living donation Mistry worked with was between two sisters: Sheri Hogenson, 48, of Moorhead, and Linette Samuelson, 44, of Fargo.

Their surgery was in January 2012. More than a year later, both are doing well.

As an athlete, Hogenson said she was initially worried she wouldn't be able to be as active after donating a kidney, but her running hasn't been affected.

After donating a kidney, Hogenson has become an advocate for organ donation and is now president of the local charity, Alexa's Hope.

She'll speak about her experiences on April 30 at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

If You Go

WHAT: Organ donation panel

WHEN: 7-10 p.m. April 30

WHERE: Comstock Memorial Union at Minnesota State University Moorhead

INFO: Free and open to the public

Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311