SIOUX FALLS, S..D. -- Grabbing the sore spot on his abdomen with every laugh, Duane Wince will not soon forget how his stepdaughter saved his life.
Last week, Miranda Irby underwent surgery, donating one of her kidneys to her ailing father.
And even though it hurts to laugh, Duane’s pain doesn’t stop him from cracking jokes and enjoying the time he has with his family, who haven’t left his side since he was admitted Nov. 16 to the Avera McKennan hospital in Sioux Falls.
The 51-year-old and his stepdaughter, Irby, were admitted the same day for the transplant surgery. Miranda was first on the operating table at 7:30 a.m. and Duane followed with a surgery at 9:30 a.m.
“We were looking at our watches,” said Bonnie Wince, Duane’s wife and Miranda’s mother, recalling the hours spent in the waiting room. “It was a long day.”
With a crowd of 15 to 20 family members, the group shocked nurses and doctors with the large amount of people gathered in the waiting room, Bonnie said.
The father-daughter duo had family from across the state gathered, including several from the Mitchell area, where strong ties still remain.
Bonnie, a Mitchell native, married Duane 28 years ago after they met while he was attending Dakota Wesleyan University. She had three kids at the time, including Miranda.
Duane worked at the Mount Vernon School as a teacher and coach for 12 years. In 1999, the family left for Spearfish so Duane could pursue a job teaching at Douglas High School.
But it was five years ago when Duane discovered he had only one kidney, and it was taking a toll on his body.
It was by chance that doctors discovered Duane was lacking a second kidney, after noticing he had blood in his urine. It had been going on for a while, but one doctor decided to find a cause and began testing.
The tests revealed Duane only had one kidney - and it was full of cysts. The kidney was in the shape of a horseshoe because it didn’t split into two when he was born, Bonnie said. Duane would eventually need a kidney transplant, but the couple was told it would be awhile before it happened.
The time for a new kidney came earlier this year when tests revealed Duane's glomerular filtration rate (GFR) - a test to measure kidney function - had dropped below 20. And to get on the transplant list, this was the “magic number,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie then wrote a message one evening, posted to social media, notifying friends and family of Duane’s situation and encouraging people to get tested to see if they may be a match.
The response the next day, Bonnie said, was overwhelming.
They had comments and messages from people they hardly knew sharing their plans to get tested and see if they were a match for Duane.
Bonnie included the phone number for the call center to begin testing, and the center officials told Bonnie they had never had so many phone calls. The couple later found out more than 30 people started the testing process, Bonnie said.
But it was the 37-year-old step-daughter Miranda who was the first to call in, the first to receive a testing kit and the first to send it back.
And she was a match.
Duane was put on the transplant list in early May, but it wasn’t until September that the family discovered Miranda was a match for her step-father. And she wasn’t alone. She had a cousin who also matched with Duane but, ultimately, the doctors chose Miranda to be the donor.
“I did tell him that this is the best (kidney) he’s ever had,” Miranda said.
Bonnie and Duane have three children together and three step-children: Chet, Miranda, Tara, Dylan, Tanner and Maggie. Bonnie describes the family as a group with a very strong faith and everybody is always supporting one another and keeping positive.
But now, after the transplant, Miranda considers herself to be No. 1.
“I’m the favorite daughter now,” she said.
It was up to Miranda to determine scheduling and when the transplant would take place. With three children of her own, and her step-father also working at a school, holiday time seemed to be the best for everyone.
At Douglas High School, Duane serves as assistant principal - a position he has held for seven years - and the high school girl’s basketball coach.
“It couldn’t have been a better time for us, to incorporate Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Duane said. “And I’m missing minimal school.”
The timing near the Thanksgiving holiday also has allowed Miranda, who lives in Idaho with her husband and children, the chance to see even more family in Mitchell she otherwise wouldn’t have if there wasn’t a transplant surgery.
“I’ll have to schedule something for next year,” Duane joked.
Miranda was released from the hospital Friday, two days after the surgery. And now this allows her and Maggie, the Wince’s youngest daughter, to travel to Mitchell to see family for Thanksgiving. Their grandparents - along with many cousins, aunts and uncles - still live in the area. Miranda’s dad also lives in Mitchell.
But for Bonnie and Duane, the holidays will be spent in Sioux Falls, just the two of them. And they’re fine with that.
Duane was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon, but he has to remain in Sioux Falls at a nearby motel through Dec. 16. Then the Winces will return home again.
And even though they won’t be with family for Thanksgiving, the couple said they will be home for Christmas - even though they don’t have any plans yet.
But every family member knows exactly what they’re thankful for this year.
“Holy cow, we are very, very blessed,” Bonnie said. “Just in time for the holidays.”