Life-saving reunion: A rekindled friendship during the pandemic leads to a kidney transplant


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The pandemic brought a lot of old friends back together, connecting through Zoom happy hours and group messages via social media and texts. Two high school friends from Lake Andes reunited in that way and it ended up changing both of their lives.

These former cheerleaders, now grandmothers, have rekindled their friendship in a life-saving reunion.

June Zimmerman and Sandy Henry graduated with the class of 1973 from Lake Andes High School.

“We went to school together from 8th grade on. We took all the same classes in high school together. We were in band and chorus and cheerleading and student council. We did about everything,” Sandy Henry said.

But after graduation, life took them in different directions.

“We didn’t know about each other’s lives and hadn’t been in contact in a significant way since we graduated,” Henry said.

“We probably saw each other three times in the last 50 years and talked for less than three hours total,” Zimmerman said.

But during the pandemic, they were reunited over Facebook Messenger through a former classmate.

“It was just such an awesome reconnection. And it just felt so good at the end of the day to connect with people you knew really well… Share memories, share jokes,” Henry said.

June also shared that she had polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition that causes cysts to grow on the kidneys.

“So my kidney function got worse with every year that passed and in the last two years, I reached the point where I needed a kidney transplant,” Zimmerman said.

June could no longer live a normal life because the cysts on her kidneys had gotten so large.

“You’re carrying about three, eight pound babies around: back pain, short of breath-the things you go through when you’re nine months pregnant,’ Zimmerman said.

When June told Sandy that she needed a kidney to survive, Sandy’s response was automatic.

“I said, ‘I’ll give you a kidney.’ It was just like crystal clear to me; you can do this. I felt the moment she said that I could do it, I would do and I would be a match,” Henry said.

It turned out Sandy was right. Testing showed she was a match.

Sandy Henry & June Zimmerman at Mayo Clinic where Sandy gave June a kidney/Photo: June Zimmerman

Henry: To be able at this point in my life to be healthy enough and to be a match, and to be able to give, so that June could live.
Kennecke: You really have saved a life. Not many people can say that.
Henry: I feel honored to have been able to have done this.

Zimmerman: It means the world. She changed my life, basically.

June got the transplant at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota because it is one of the only transplant centers that removes the old kidneys and puts in a new one in a single procedure.

“And for me, I just thought, not having to go through two different surgeries and healing up in between, was very appealing,” Zimmerman said.

“We solved her two problems: one is we gave her a new functioning kidney. And we took out those big cumbersome kidneys that were bothering her,” Dr. Mikel Prieto, Transplant Surgeon with the Mayo Clinic, said.

“And the surgeon came in and she said, ‘Sandy, you gave June a perfect kidney,'” Henry said.

June immediately lost 23 pounds following surgery.

“I felt so relieved to get rid of those big kidneys–no nausea no pain; got up and walked the first day and things were absolutely great,” Zimmerman said.

“I feel gratitude. I feel like I’m the receiver by being able to do something for June. I don’t know how to describe it in any other way, but I feel like I’m the one receiving by being able to give,” Sandy said.

The night before surgery the two women recreated their cheerleading photo from high school. They don’t intend to let another 50 years go by without being involved in one another’s lives.

June Zimmerman and Sandy Henry recreate a high school cheerleading photo from 1972/Photo: June Zimmerman

“We are going to spend time together and with our families as well. It’s been a wonderful reconnection. It’s just like no time has passed,” Henry said.

“We’re family now, yeah,” Zimmerman said.

“It’s a miracle that keeps repeating itself and I’m blessed to have a job that allows me to participate and see this kind of thing on a regular basis. So this is just another wonderful story of two people that come together one to help another, with a wonderful outcome,” Dr. Prieto said.

“I have my life back; my new life back. I feel as good as I felt at 40. It wasn’t just a transplant. It was a life-changing event, yeah,” Zimmerman said.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, more than 90,000 patients are waiting for a kidney. The average wait is about five years, with patients having to go on dialysis in the meantime.
Interested in becoming a kidney donor? Click this link.

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