Wilmont kidney donor speaks about the ‘miracle’ of giving

WILMONT -- Late last year, Wilmont resident Julie Brake was an essential agent in a mission to save and restore a life, as she donated one of her kidneys to her 76-year-old father, Bernard Thier.

To kick off Donate Life Month, Julie Brake speaks April 6 about her organ donation at a flag-raising ceremony outside the Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls. (Special to the Daily Globe)

WILMONT - Late last year, Wilmont resident Julie Brake was an essential agent in a mission to save and restore a life, as she donated one of her kidneys to her 76-year-old father, Bernard Thier.


Thier, a lifelong farmer, had seen his health decay slowly but surely. Over the last couple of years, his kidney function decreased to the point that they were no longer at a sustainable level.


As soon as they heard he might need a transplant, Brake and her four siblings all stepped forward for testing. Brake knew she had a good chance of being a match. She knew she and Thier shared the same blood type, as they have been blood donors for many years. She also didn’t take any medications, or have any issues such as high blood pressure.



Thier started dialysis treatment in November 2015. He stayed on the medication for eight months, until his doctor agreed that he was ready for a transplant. Brake was confirmed as a match, and the operation was set for Nov. 14, 2016.


Naturally, Brake was afraid to go through with the operation, but as a mother of four, she remembered how she felt right before the birth of her first child - scared and unsure of what would happen next.


“You go into it and don’t know what to expect, but when you hold that baby in your arms, your heart melts and you’d do it all over again - that’s really how I look at donating a kidney or any organ,” Brake said.


“If you can look at that person afterwards and know that you gave that person life, you gave them hope and a better future, it’s everything. And anybody who has a child will know that, because that’s how you look at them.”



The procedure went well, granting Thier a third kidney, and more importantly, a kidney that works. Just like that, his major health problems were erased.


“My life hasn’t changed at all, and Dad’s life has improved 100 percent,” Brake said. “He looks wonderful, he feels wonderful, and it just makes my heart soar when I look at him and know that he’s basically got his life back.”

Brake’s parents have been married 57 years. Thier has been a cattle feeder his entire life - his days are once again consumed with feeding cattle, scraping pens and hauling fertilizer.


Thier was always a hero and role model to Brake. She said he “always finds the silver lining in every dark cloud.”



“Through all the years he was on dialysis, he never complained, and every day he would go out to the farm - even the days he had dialysis,” she said. “He’s always believed that if you work hard, you’ll feel better.”


Originally from St. Kilian, Brake worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years. She now helps her family’s farming operation with her husband of 34 years, Jerry, and their four sons.


A major factor in Brake’s confidence in her decision was advice from cousin Lisa Bullerman. Fifteen years ago, Bullerman gave her community a shock when she gave an organ to a complete stranger from her church.


“She had experienced it, she had walked down that road and knew what to expect,” Brake said. “She was very reassuring.”


To kick off Donate Life Month, Brake spoke at an April 6 flag-raising ceremony the Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, detailing why she decided to go through with the transplant.


Brake encouraged potential organ donors to contact her or anyone who has gone through a transplant for insight. She also mentioned that organ and tissue donors go right to the top of the donor waiting list if they are in need of a transplant.


“If you have a family, or loved one, or a child in need, I wouldn’t hesitate. It's a wonderful thing … these are miracles, they really are.”

Related Topics: HEALTH
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