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2014 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Ken Dalen

Ken ran the Detroit Marathon after learning his donor was a track athlete.

Ken Dalen of Michigan was 17 years old when he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. Although not offered a bright future at that time, the next 30 years saw him complete college, medical school, and residency, become a radiologist, marry his wife, Kim, and have two sons, Kenny and Eric.

 

After living with diabetes for that length of time, however, Ken found himself in need of a transplant. Rather than pursue a kidney-only transplant, his doctors encouraged him to come to UW Hospitals and Clinics for a simultaneous kidney-pancreas transplant.

 

Shortly after being placed on the list, in July 2005, Ken had the transplant.

 

"Receiving a new kidney and pancreas has changed everything for me and my family," he says. "Before the transplant, my wife used to be afraid to fall asleep at night and would stay awake just to make sure I was OK. That was also at a point in my life when I didn't think I would live long enough to even see my kids grow up. But after the transplant, everything is different. I am living a life better than anything I could have ever imagined and am able to do things that previously were beyond my reach. All this has happened after receiving a gift from someone I will never meet and never be able to say thank you to—a young man named Steven."

 

Through letters with Steven's mother, Ken learned that Steven was a cross-country runner in high school. In 2012, one of Ken's co-workers who was running in the Detroit International Marathon suggested that he also participate, and Ken knew in his heart that he had to.

 

"Running had always been the furthest thing from my mind, but when that opportunity presented itself, I wanted to honor Steven by taking part, and decided to sign up for the half-marathon," he says.

 

At that time, Ken's goal was to start in Detroit, go over to Canada, and make it back to Detroit, about eight miles. But when he got back to Detroit, he started to think about the impact on his life that Steven's gift has had. He looked down at his race bib, reading its message - "Organ Donor Saved Me" - and became more determined to finish the entire 13.1 miles. He crossed the finish line with tears of gratitude running down his face.

 

A few months later, Ken and Eric signed up for the 2013 Detroit Half-Marathon. For that, Ken wore a bib that proudly stated, "Transplant Works." 

 

Eric, who had just received his drivers license and signed up for the organ donor registry at that time, put on his race bib, "I Am An Organ Donor."

 

Together, with thankful hearts and hopeful messages, they were able to complete the half marathon, spreading the message of organ donation each step of the way.