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'A full-circle moment': Fargo man to get organ from mother of child who died waiting for one

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Paul Leintz of Fargo is pictured after undergoing a double-lung transplant in June 2002. Special to The Forum2 / 4
Joanie Carey, left, of Casselton shares a laugh with Paul Leintz and his wife Leslie Limvere on Sunday, Dec. 3 2017, in their Fargo home. The two women surprised Leintz with the news that Carey is a donor match and is willing to give a kidney to him. Robin Huebner / The Forum3 / 4
Two-year-old Ember Carey of Casselton, N.D., died in 2015 while waiting for a second heart transplant. Special to The Forum4 / 4

FARGO—Paul Leintz spends nine hours every day tethered to a dialysis machine and manages a full-time overnight shift at a local radio station.

Boxes of dialysis supplies fill a spare bedroom in the home he shares with Leslie Limvere, his wife of almost two years.

Thankfully, the treatment can be done while he sleeps, but there's still not much comfort for Limvere.

"I check to make sure he's breathing," she said, referring to the frequent monitoring done ever since she found her husband unresponsive due to low blood sugar, a time he almost died.

The anxious moments may lessen in the coming months, however, after Leintz receives a new kidney Dec. 12 at the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis.

Fitting with the holiday season, his donor at first played Secret Santa.

Leintz, known as "Paulee" to friends, was only told that an unnamed person he might know had stepped forward to donate, and was a good match.

"I feel like I'm either on a gameshow or a reality show," Leintz said as he sat down with The Forum to talk about the transplant, not knowing his donor would be making an appearance.

A few minutes later, longtime friend Joanie Carey of Casselton, N.D., walked in.

"Surprise!" Carey said, to which Leintz replied, "Joanie! What's up?" a puzzled look on his face.

"I'm your match!" she exclaimed with a broad smile.

"No way. Serious? Oh my God," Leintz said, pulling her in for a hug.

Carey had contemplated becoming a donor for a while.

Her 2-year-old daughter Ember died in 2015 awaiting a second heart transplant.

She said donating a kidney feels like a part of Ember is helping someone else.

"It's a full-circle moment, that's what I think," Carey said.

Losing Ember 'broke us'

When Carey's daughter was in the midst of her own health battle, Leintz offered his support.

"He knew what I was going through because he'd been through that. It meant a lot," Carey said.

Ember was diagnosed as an infant with a heart defect known as noncompaction cardiomyopathy.

She later suffered cardiac arrest and a stroke, causing her to be put on a heart transplant list.

She received a new heart at a Minneapolis hospital, but a rare complication rendered the donated heart useless.

Ember was transferred to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where she was put on a heart-lung bypass machine to await a second transplant. She died a few months later after a massive stroke.

"Losing Ember was very hard on us. It broke us," Carey said.

Before Ember was removed from life support, the couple hoped some of her organs would be viable for donation, but that wasn't the case.

Searching for a meaningful way to honor Ember's life, Carey decided to be tested to see if she could be a match for Leintz.

"Something was just telling me I had to do it," she said.

More at stake in second transplant

This will be the second transplant surgery for Leintz.

Born with cystic fibrosis, his lungs slowly deteriorated over the years, causing him to feel increasingly winded.

"Even just walking a block I felt like I was running a marathon," Leintz said.

He was put on a list for a double-lung transplant and had the operation in 2002.

The surgery went off without a hitch and the lungs have served Leintz well.

However, the anti-rejection medications he takes have damaged his kidneys and he's developed diabetes.

As a result, he needs both a new kidney and a pancreas. The pancreas, he said, will be dealt with later, unless both organs happen to become available from a deceased donor before the live donor procedure on Dec. 12.

Leintz is more nervous about this transplant than his first because he has his wife to think about this time.

The two met through a mutual friend at a karaoke session, and hit it off right away after each of them shared the fact that they'd been adopted.

They also bonded through his health problems.

"When you're in a stressful situation, you're either going to be fighting or you're going to be getting closer. Me and Leslie have definitely gotten closer," Leintz said.

'Going to give us freedom'

The couple went through a transplant "dry run" in September, getting a call that organs were available from a deceased donor.

They turned out to not be viable.

It was a blessing in disguise for Leintz, because his father's health was declining at the time. He was able to be with his dad when his dad died about a week later.

"It would have been miserable if I was down recovering and my dad passed away," Leintz said.

Now, his family and Carey's family are in the final stages of preparation for the big day.

The wait will be worth it for a couple that keeps a packed bag in the trunk of their car-- a couple that's had to stick around Fargo for nearly the last two years so they could mobilize quickly if a viable organ became available, and had to stay close to home so that Leintz could hook up for dialysis every day.

"It's going to give us freedom," Limvere said.