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Longtime Fargo teacher undergoes kidney transplant

Julie Larson, who retired from teaching earlier than planned due to health problems, received a new kidney on Friday, Nov. 11.

Woman sits on a couch with her infant grandchildren
Julie Larson is shown in November of 2020 with her grandchildren. Larson had a kidney transplant on Nov. 11, 2022, after dealing with stage 5 kidney failure for several years.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — A long-time Fargo teacher who retired early due to health problems is recovering after an organ transplant.

Julie Larson, 60, received a kidney during a four-and-a-half-hour surgery at Sanford Health in Fargo on Friday, Nov. 11.

She taught first grade students for 34 years, the last 20 of them at Bennett Elementary. Her husband, Brad Larson, retired after serving as principal at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School.

Brad said they only know the kidney came from a 45-year-old man not from the F-M area, who had suffered some kind of cardiac event.

The donor's organs were harvested that afternoon and the surgery began sometime before 10 p.m., he said.

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He said the transplanted kidney is producing urine, but his wife developed fluid around her heart a few days post-surgery, which caused an elevated heart rate and breathing difficulties.

“It sounds great to get a kidney but there's a lot of stuff going on right now that’s kind of scary,” Julie said while still hospitalized at Sanford.

A round of dialysis, the process of purifying the blood of a person whose kidneys are not working normally, seemed to help.

Julie was released from Sanford on Friday, Nov. 18.

The surgery happened two years to the day of her being approved for the transplant list and four years to the day of her going into remission from breast cancer.

She had to be cancer-free for two years to be eligible for the transplant, an anniversary she marked on Nov. 11, 2020.

Julie was a difficult match for transplant because she has a high level of antibodies toward different tissue types in her body, which could mean a high risk of rejection of a donated kidney.

Not only would blood and tissue typing need to be compatible, her donor would have to have a low number of those antibodies.

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Family members and friends who were tested early on did not work out as donors.

“They said to us… 25 to 30 out of 100 kidneys would be a match. This one ended up being a perfect match,” Brad said.

Evidently, the third time was the charm for Julie, who was called twice before in the last couple of months that a kidney might be available.

The first time, she was number two on the transplant list but only one kidney ended up being available, so it went to the recipient before her on the list.

After the second call, when the donor’s organs were harvested, it was determined neither kidney was viable, he said.

“Julie really didn't get her hopes up real high the other two times and this time either… as it got closer and we got calls to come in, she was excited but a little apprehensive,” Brad said.

In addition to two bouts with breast cancer, Julie has had gastric bypass surgery and deals with diabetes.

In stage 5 kidney failure, she had traveled from the couple’s Minnesota lake home to Detroit Lakes three times a week for the last year and a half for dialysis.

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As she recovers from the transplant surgery, Julie is staying with a friend in Fargo for a while so that she’s close to her doctors for follow-up appointments.

She'll go in for lab tests every day and see a kidney specialist three times a week, she said. If lab results look good, the appointments will be decreased.

“Overall, it's gone well and we've been very blessed,” Brad said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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