Surgery changes a med student’s path

June 11, 2018
Kent Peterson and his fiancee and parents

Fourth year medical student Kent Peterson’s father, Gordy, had battled chronic kidney disease for as long as Kent could remember. Peterson’s decision to go to medical school was sparked, in part, by accompanying his dad to frequent appointments.

His mother, a nurse, also encouraged his interest by introducing him to a surgeon in their rural Minnesota community who offered Peterson a chance to watch a gastric bypass procedure.

“I had never been more amazed by what human hands can accomplish,” says Peterson. “I witnessed this patient transform his lifestyle following the surgery.”

Just as he was about to start his second year, his dad’s condition worsened.

Doctors told the family that a kidney transplant was Gordy’s best chance for a normal life. Unfortunately, no one in the family had a compatible blood type—and the wait for a donor was three to five years.

But there was another option. Peterson learned of a program that would allow him to donate on his father’s behalf. This concept, called a paired kidney exchange, increased the chances of finding compatible donors for patients whose families could not provide a match.

In August 2015, the Peterson family learned that a donor kidney was available for Gordy.

Two weeks after his dad’s surgery, Peterson was back in the operating room, this time as a kidney donor.

Today, Gordy has regained his strength and vigor. “My dad has returned to his former energetic self,” says Peterson. “He loves fishing and hunting, and it’s wonderful to see him enjoying the outdoors again.”

And the transplant experience itself has set Peterson on a different career path than he originally imagined. Although he had planned to practice as a general surgeon, he’s now interested in becoming a transplant surgeon.

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This story appeared in its original form in the Medical Bulletin.