Waukon native returns home to donate book to Robey Memorial Library

Donation of book that shares their story ... Waukon native Paul Osterholm (far right) of Pipe, WI returned home Saturday, May 29 with the recipient of one of his kidneys, Nicole Braatz (far left) of Fond du Lac, WI, to donate a book to Robey Memorial Library that includes their kidney donation story and to talk about the importance of organ donation and the impact it can have on so many lives. Pictured with the organ sharing duo is Chris Kerndt (center) of Robey Memorial Library. Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond.

“Because of Organ Donation: A Collection of Inspiring Stories Celebrating the Gift of Life” includes story of Waukon High School 1978 graduate Paul Osterholm’s “gift of a lifetime” to Nicole Braatz

by Julie Berg-Raymond

Waukon native Paul Osterholm came home Saturday, May 29 and introduced a roomful of family and friends to Nicole Braatz - a woman whose life was saved because of Osterholm’s gift to her of one of his kidneys.

Osterholm and Braatz were at Robey Memorial Library in Waukon that Memorial Day weekend to speak about the urgency and importance of organ donation - to answer questions, clear up misconceptions, and encourage people to donate - and to gift the library with a copy of “Because of Organ Donation: A Collection of Inspiring Stories Celebrating the Gift of Life,” conceived, edited, and with an introduction by Brenda E. Cortez. Included in the book is Osterholm’s essay, “God’s Whispers,” the story of his gift of a kidney to Braatz. A compilation of 25 organ donation stories, the book aims to shine “an important light on the continuing importance of becoming a donor - humanizing the people involved with poignant tales of survival,” according to a recent news release highlighting the new book.

In telling his part of their story, Osterholm was overcome with emotion on a few occasions - as he recalled, for example, the moment he realized he was a match and would be able to give one of his kidneys to Braatz. Most often, though, they both had the room laughing, as they shared inside-jokes they’ve developed since their surgeries (he calls the kidney he gave away “leftie,” and Braatz jokes that she “took the bigger one”; Braatz’ mom says she finally has a “son,” and Osterholm calls her “mom.”)

Braatz told the audience that she has never been comfortable speaking in front of people, but that this experience has compelled her to want to go out and share what she has learned. “I didn’t know anything about kidneys, or about dialysis - how completely exhausting it is. I was so uneducated; you don’t realize until you go through it that you only need one (kidney).”

She also wants to share her story - of gratitude, and of having a second chance, because a living donor stood up for someone else’s life. Osterholm said he did this because of the example set by his late mom, Abigail Osterholm of Waukon. “If anyone had a problem, our mom was there,” he said.

In her introduction to “Because of Organ Donation,” Cortez notes that over 110,000 patients are currently waiting for an organ transplant - the majority of whom are waiting for a kidney; and that about 20 people die each day in the U.S. because an organ was not available. In 2018, Nicole Braatz, of Fond du Lac, WI, suddenly and inexplicably found herself among those people in need of a kidney.

In late December of 2017, Braatz - a healthy 48 year-old woman - went to the doctor complaining of a sinus infection. The flu was going around, and she assumed that’s what was wrong - and her doctor agreed. With her health continuing to worsen, she made multiple trips to the doctor, who continued to tell her she had the flu. Finally, unable to keep down even a cup of coffee, Braatz went to urgent care.

“I asked them to do blood work on me,” she recalls. “And I asked to be hooked up to an IV, because I was hungry.”

An hour later, the doctor told Braatz she was in kidney failure - that her kidneys were functioning at three percent (on average, people start dialysis at 15 percent), and that she was within days or even hours from going into cardiac arrest. She started dialysis the next morning.

Osterholm and Braatz first met in 1999, when he was running the Common Grounds Café at Marian University in Fond du Lac, and Braatz had been commissioned to design the logo and sign for the café. They were in casual touch a couple times over the next 15 years through his wife’s acquaintance with Braatz’ sisters, with whom she attended high school. When, in 2018 - after receiving her diagnosis - Braatz posted a Facebook message saying she needed a kidney (none of her seven sisters could donate; “that was the first time I cried,” she recalls), Osterholm’s wife, Janet, saw the message - and told her husband.

The rest of this touching, inspiring, unforgettable story is told in “Because of Organ Donation.” More than 15 years after having first met at the university café for which Braatz had created the sign, Osterholm writes, “we gathered with our families beneath that sign in the weeks leading up to our transplant, wearing shirts reading ‘Share Your Spare Kidney,’ and we couldn’t help but see the hand fate was playing throughout the process. God had a plan, and He still has a plan. This journey has helped me to listen to His whispers more.”

Osterholm is a 1978 graduate of Waukon High School. He and his wife, Janet, have been married for 34 years and live in Pipe, WI, north of Fond du Lac. They have been blessed with a son and daughter of their own, and their first grandchild was born just five days after her Grandpa Paul’s kidney donation in October 2018. Osterholm is the founder of the Facebook page, Share Your Spare, Fond du Lac, where he advocates for kidney and other organ donation.

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