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N.D. family meets 'angel' donor

Sipping coffee from a paper cup, Kris Wymenga paced the Scandia Hotel lobby in Fargo Tuesday afternoon. The 40-year-old from Welland, Ont., had flown into town Monday, ready to give her kidney to a man she'd never met. Now it was time to meet Ted...

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Sipping coffee from a paper cup, Kris Wymenga paced the Scandia Hotel lobby in Fargo Tuesday afternoon.

The 40-year-old from Welland, Ont., had flown into town Monday, ready to give her kidney to a man she'd never met.

Now it was time to meet Ted Dunnigan of Walhalla, N.D.

Dunnigan used a dolly to push three boxes of dialysis fluid from the red Chevy pickup in the parking lot to the hotel's east door. He barely made it through before Wymenga came up to him.

Dunnigan extended his hand.

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"We don't have time for that nonsense," scolded Wymenga, grabbing him for a hug.

"I'm overwhelmed," wife Eileen Dunnigan said. "This is a miracle. How many people would give a stranger their kidney so he can live? And he really needs it."

Ted, a diabetic for 30 years, discovered his kidneys were not working properly in December 1999.

Daughter Tracy Bjarnason, the only of his four daughters able to donate, offered her kidney. But a week before the October 2000 transplant, she was ruled ineligible.

Ted has been on dialysis since, now spending 10 hours each night on the machine.

"I'd given up hope," he said.

But now, his daughters say, Wymenga has brought the spark back to Dunnigan's eyes.

Wymenga, whose mother was a registered nurse, said she was raised to care for other people. When she heard about 17-year-old Jesica Santillan's botched heart-lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center earlier this year, she researched what she could do to help.

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In March, Wymenga stumbled across the Web site www.livingdonorsonline.org and posted an offering of a kidney.

The same week, Ted Dunnigan's daughter Dori posted a plea on the same Web site for her father. Wymenga turned out to be a match.

Donor and recipient will go through extensive tests today. By Thursday they'll know if the transplant is a go.

Wymenga doesn't think it's anything special to give her kidney to a stranger. She wishes it were more common.

"My world has no borders," she said. "We're all the same family."

She doesn't expect her life to change much either, but thinks about how much better Ted's life will be.

"I'll take care of my one kidney, and hopefully Ted will have a fuller life," Wymenga said.

Wymenga, who works in real estate, has exchanged e-mails and phone calls with the Dunnigans, but she is more than a friend to this family.

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"She's our angel," Eileen said. "Daughter No. 5."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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