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Gifts of gratitude honor late wife

Rudy and Kathryn Dankwort (Submitted photo)

Husband’s current and planned gifts support U diabetes research

It wasn’t love at first sight when Rudy Dankwort met his future wife, Kathryn. She was 7 and he was a teen. Kathryn was his best friend’s little sister. But the two fell in love 11 years later and married, beginning a 37-year union that lasted until her death in 2009.

Although Kathryn Dankwort died shortly after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, she had endured type 1 diabetes since she was 12 years old.

When her kidneys failed in 1997, Kathryn began hemodialysis and then peritoneal dialysis, which pumped four to five gallons of fluid a day through a surgical tube in her stomach. Rudy saw his wife’s struggles and wanted a better life for her. He became determined to donate one of his kidneys to Kathryn. “Chances of success are much better with a living-donor kidney,” he says.

The couple researched various transplant programs. “We had four choices,” says the Arizona native, “and we picked the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. They did everything right … for us.”

Dankwort remembers arriving in snowy Minneapolis and being thrilled to meet David E. R. Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D., former director of the pancreas and kidney transplant program at the University. Sutherland is famous for performing the world’s first living-donor partial pancreas transplant at the University—one of the school’s many world firsts.

While many people called Dankwort’s gift of his kidney unselfish, he doesn’t look at it that way: “That was the most selfish thing I ever did in my life. What was important to me was [Kathryn]. She meant everything to me.”

That transplant, which Dankwort calls a “complete success,” plus a follow-up pancreas transplant at the University a year later, gave Kathryn eight years of a healthful life, plus freedom from diabetes, until her body rejected the pancreas in 2007. A second pancreas transplant wasn’t as successful, although it meant that she only needed to supplement with insulin injections—averting the need for the resumption of a harsh dialysis regimen.

Today, Rudy Dankwort is a generous supporter of the University’s diabetes research and transplant programs.

He has made planned and current-use gifts: An IRA bequest gift of $600,000 supports the Jeffrey Dobbs-David Sutherland Diabetes Research Chair, and this year, he also directed the annual distributions from his IRA support the University’s immunology research in diabetes.

Dankwort jokes that over the years he and Kathryn were “pretty parsimonious,” but that now, “I’m free to spend [money] more generously.”

He says he’s glad to share it with others. “I am very thankful,” Dankwort says, “and I’m showing it in my financial donations.”

By Karin Miller

To support diabetes research at the University of Minnesota, contact Jean Gorell at 612-625-0497 or j.gorell@mmf.umn.edu.

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