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Borrowing Time, Part II -- Friendships in fast motion

This is the second in a three-part series about the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester, as told through the life and death of Alice Roberts and the people she met while waiting for a heart transplant.

To read the entire series, go to Postbulletin.com.

By Jeff Hansel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Blossoming familiarity among the guests at Rochester’s Gift of Life Transplant House quickly transforms casual acquaintances into lifelong friendships.

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The process is "like an intense relationship," says guest Alice Roberts of Post Falls, Idaho, who’s here until an organ becomes available for transplant.

You begin to know somebody, and then the person gets a transplant, leaves and returns to visit later.

"You become friends with them, and then within six months, they rotate out. Your life here is a complete rotation of making friends and then losing them," says Kate Carey of the Cleveland area, whose husband, Dan, is awaiting a heart and liver transplant.

Roberts makes friends almost at first sight. Her bond with the Careys is almost familylike.

Roberts came to Gift of Life seeking a heart transplant. If she gets one, her quality of life should improve and she should live longer, yet she knows the procedure carries life-threatening risks.

Gift of Life keeps this journey from becoming a solitary one. In the historic home of Dr. E. Starr Judd — the first surgical partner of Mayo Clinic’s founding brothers, Dr. Charlie Mayo and Dr. Will Mayo — Alice and other transplant house guests gain support from people who understand what they’re going through.

The environment focuses on their needs, from a private place to pray to groups of like-minded folks ready to laugh, offer a caring touch or share a snack.

Dan is living with amyloidosis, a condition that can cause proteins to build up in organs, destroying their function. Dan and Kate were on the verge of retirement in North Carolina before they moved to Rochester to wait for a heart.

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"I had no idea what the expectation was, post-surgery … what would be ‘normal.’ I didn’t know if I was going to be able to walk again," Dan Carey says. Then he and Kate met a heart recipient who came back to Gift of Life while in town for a checkup.

"Meeting him was a revelation, because he epitomized to me what was possible. I had no frame of reference until that evening," Carey says.

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