LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Last year, a La Crosse woman named Jaralee Richter, said her world turned upside down.
Richter said she never had any health issues her whole life but was suddenly was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune kidney disease called anti-GBM (Anti-Glomerular Basement Membrane Disease). This disease causes damage to the kidneys and leads to kidney failure.
Richter spent hour after hour in bed while hooked up to a dialysis machine. Her team of doctors at Mayo Clinic Health System and Rochester Mayo Clinic Health System informed her she needed to get a transplant.
Around Christmas time of last year, Kari Treadway, a family friend of more than 20 years, gave an incredible gift: she volunteered to donate one of her kidneys to Jaralee.
"Many people in my family are donor recipients," Treadway said. "I have a cousin who needed a liver. I have other extended family members who needed a heart. Organ donation is not foreign to me. When Jaralee posted she needed a kidney on her Caringbridge website, I didn't think twice."
Troy Richter, Jaralee's husband, said, hearing his wife's diagnosis of anti-GBM was very hard and emotional. Richter said when he and Jarlee's two sons heard that Treadway is willing to donate one of her kidneys, it was the best Christmas give ever.
"Kari is an angel," said Troy Richter.
The kidney surgery was a success. Jaralee and Kari both had their pre-op beds next to each other.
"Its Jara's journey. I was just a moment in time to be someone there to help her," said Treadway.
Jaralee said she and her family cannot thank Kari enough.
"Kari means life, she means everything," Jaralee said. "I have a piece of Kari in me now."
Dr. Caroline Wilker, Jaralee's primary care doctor, said over 100,000 people in the United States need organ transplants. Wilker said in Wisconsin alone, 2,000 people are on the organ waiting list.
Dr. Wilker said the need for organ donors could not be emphasized enough.
"Jaralee was presented with challenge after challenge in front of her for the past year, and every time I would interact with her, she would bring up what she was grateful for," Wilker said. "Jaralee took on anti-GBM with strength and grace. Jaralee is inspirational to us all at Mayo Clinic Health System."
Chad and Mark Richter, Troy and Jaralee's children, said their mom is the strongest woman they know.
"The gift of life is so precious," Chad Richter said. "You never really think about how valuable life is or how important your loved ones are until its almost taken away from you."
"My mother has been so emotionally strong and mentally tough through her kidney disease," Mark Richter said. "My mother inspires me."
Jaralee Richter said it was her faith, friends, and Kari who got her through this journey.
"When I was sick, I found that there were lessons to be learned through this whole process," Jaralee Richter said. "I am grateful for those lessons I learned. Sometimes the hardest things you learn in life are the hardest to get through, but that is the point."
Jaralee Richter is the Assistant Director of University Centers at UW-La Crosse. Kari Treadway is UW-La Crosse alumna.