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Giving others a new lease on life

Alvin Libin made a gift to transplant outcomes research at the University in memory of his late wife, Mona, who was able to enjoy her favorite activities following a kidney transplant.

Transplant recipient’s family hopes gift will encourage others to become organ donors

When Mona Libin received a new kidney in August 2004, she also got a second chance at a normal life.

Before her kidney transplant at the University of Minnesota, Mona had been on dialysis—an often grueling process through which a machine performs the kidneys’ normal function of cleansing the blood.

“If you know anything about dialysis, you know it’s a terrible way to live,” says her husband, Alvin Libin. “After the transplant, Mona was able to do the things she had done before. She was an avid golfer and loved gardening and traveling. Those are things she couldn’t do on dialysis.”

Following the transplant, the Libins returned to their home in Calgary, Alberta, happy to get back to the things they were passionate about. As part owners of the team, they were familiar faces at Calgary Flames hockey games, and they also worked together to improve health care through their foundation.

In fact, the Alvin and Mona Libin Foundation has supported several major health-care initiatives in Alberta. And because of Mona’s experience as a patient at the University of Minnesota, she wanted to give back in the United States, too—especially to her surgeon, Arthur J. Matas, M.D., director of the University’s kidney transplant program.

She began talking with David A. Rothenberger, M.D., deputy chair of the Department of Surgery, about ways her family could support the University’s nationally renowned transplant program.

Arthur J. Matas, M.D., director of the University's kidney transplant program, hopes his long-term follow-up studies on organ donors will help others make informed decisions about organ donation.

Rothenberger, who holds the John P. Delaney Chair in Clinical Surgical Oncology, recalls his first conversation with Mona. “She confirmed her deep gratitude to Dr. Matas and the entire transplant team for helping her return to a normal life,” he says. “She wanted to help Arthur in some tangible way. As I got to know the Libins better, I realized that they were keenly aware of the critical role that philanthropy plays in advancing medical knowledge.”

When Mona died suddenly of pneumonia in June 2006, Alvin carried out the wishes of his high-school sweetheart and wife of 53 years by donating $100,000 to Matas’s research through the family’s foundation.

Matas is using the money to study the long-term health of organ donors. “Living kidney donors put themselves through a major operation for the benefit of someone else,” Matas says. “There’s a surgical risk, but as best we know, there’s minimal or no long-term risk.”

But Matas wants to be sure. Current information indicates that organ donors have no greater risk of disease 20 or 30 years after their organ donation than does the general population, he says. Matas wants to follow patients even longer—especially since some of the organ donors he sees are quite young, such as those who have donated to an ailing parent.

“These longer-term studies will help us provide people with the information they need to make an informed decision,” he says.

Alvin Libin hopes studies like this will encourage more people to become organ donors, giving others the chance to be helped—like Mona was—by an organ transplant.

“We thought this was a good project,” says Libin, who personally delivered the check to Matas in January with his son, Robert, and granddaughter Eda. “We wanted to support it in Mona’s memory.”

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