- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - St. Thomas More social studies teacher and head wrestling coach Nick Durham isn’t the kind of guy to ask for help, and certainly isn’t one to cry.

But when the 250 students at his private Catholic school recently banded together and raised big bucks to help the Durham family with expenses tied to his wife’s pending kidney transplant, he says their selfless act hit him right in the heart.

“We’re not people who take a lot of help,” Durham said. “We like to work through things on our own. Both Jennifer and I come from a small farming town in Colorado, where people are self-reliant, and we’re not used to these overwhelming offers of help.”

Even so, Durham decided to go with the flow when students at his school elected to make his family beneficiaries of Spirit Day - the one day each year when classmates can pay a buck to forego their uniforms and don blue jeans and a St. Thomas More T-shirt.

“We expected a couple hundred bucks,” Durham said. “But I went down to the office at the end of the day and our manager said, ‘Here’s your receipt,’ which showed donations of $1,600.

“This money came from high-schoolers, who generally get a bad rap for being self-centered,” the 40-year-old teacher told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/20Thpb3 ). “I’m not a person to well-up and have tears come out, but that just hit me in the heart right there. I didn’t want folks to see me, so I went off and the tears just came.”

Understandably, it’s been an emotional time for the Durhams.

Eight years ago, Jennifer, who works as the accountant for the Rapid City Rush, was diagnosed with anti-GBM, a rare disease that causes antibodies to attack the kidneys. If left untreated, it can cause death.

“Luckily, we caught it in time,” Durham said. “Doctors don’t know a lot about it, and we were pretty fortunate it only got to the kidneys and hadn’t spread to the lungs.”

Treated at the Mayo Clinic, Jennifer received a new kidney donated by her older brother, Chris Stone. The operation was a success and the Durham household returned to some semblance of normalcy following the transplant.

But, Durham said his 38-year-old wife’s disease recently returned, necessitating another kidney transplant. And he was the first to volunteer.

“For how much she’s done for me during our life together, I had not one second of hesitation,” Durham said.

Four weeks ago, Durham traveled to Rochester, Minnesota, where doctors, nurses and social workers at the Mayo Clinic put him through three days of testing.

“It shocked Jennifer because I hate needles with a passion and the first thing they did was come at me with needles, and took 18 vials of blood from me,” he said. “I was looking away. They just kept draining it.”

When the test results came back, Durham said doctors were astounded at how closely he matched his wife, meaning he was the perfect candidate to donate a kidney.

“It blew the Mayo doctor’s mind at how close a match we were - like a sibling match,” he said. “The better the match, the less likely there will be rejection.”

Surgery is now scheduled for Thursday at the Mayo Clinic. Barring unforeseen complications, the couple will need to stay in Rochester for a month, while Jennifer is tested four times a week to monitor the success of the transplant.

There admittedly will be financial obstacles to surmount, but Durham said their greatest challenge during the coming ordeal will be trying to ensure that their three children - Stone, 16; Alexys, 14; and Tyson, 11 - have as normal a summer as possible. Fortunately, he said, the family has come to understand just how many friends they truly have.

Alexys will be taking a middle school trip to Boston, which “hopefully take her mind off this,” Durham said. Stone, one of STM’s best wrestlers, has a football camp scheduled in Rapid City and a wrestling camp set for Chadron, Nebraska.

“Personally, this has been so inspiring,” Durham said. “We’ve had so many people, so many friends and family, step up to support us, offer rides, tell us that our kids can stay at their house, and such.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the community and all those who have contributed prayers and donations,” he added. “It’s been so heartwarming and so amazing.”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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