The longest living HCMC kidney transplant patient – DuWayne’s story
DuWayne Virnig of Little Falls, MN, formerly of Coon Rapids, is Hennepin Healthcare’s longest living kidney transplant patient, at the age of 82. Thanks to a donor kidney when DuWayne was 37 years old, he has led a long and prosperous life with a loving family and much to be thankful for.
DuWayne began dialysis in 1978 at the age of 37 and, within 6 weeks, had surgery to receive a donor kidney. He and his wife, Lottie, had two small children, Jon and Lora, and were living a good life in Coon Rapids, MN. His daughter, Lora, tells his story.
“We really didn’t understand all that was going on,” says Lora, who was in 4th grade at the time. “I did learn later that at one point, early on, his body began to reject the kidney, but he pulled through.” Their neighborhood rallied with welcome home signs, and Lora and Jon’s classes made welcome home cards.
DuWayne’s wife Lottie, was the cousin of our own Ellen Bernardson, CNP, from our Kidney Transplant Program. Lottie passed away in 2018 from cancer, but Ellen has stayed close to the Virnig family. Ellen, or Ellie, as the family calls her, was studying medicine when DuWayne began treatment. Somewhat unfamiliar to the specialty of renal (kidney) care, this sparked Ellen’s interest and here she is marking 44 years in the field of kidney care. Ellen brought DuWayne’s amazing story to our attention.
DuWayne spent over 30 years working at Sears and Roebuck, repairing televisions and microwaves. This job became a hobby as DuWayne was known for building many things out of used ‘parts’, including a bike for Lora. “He could fix anything,” said Lora. “Many thought in today’s world he would have been an engineer! When we cleaned out my parents house in the later years, it took about a year because he had dozens of old fixed camcorders, VCRs and all kinds of other gadgets. He kept items because, as DuWayne says, “Nowadays, things just get thrown, and no one makes or keeps parts. Why throw it away if you have a used part available? You just have to know where to look”.
Lora continues, “My father was also very involved in our church, The Church of Epiphany in Coon Rapids. He ran the video / audio system for the church and all major functions, helping the drama program with lighting and sound. He was also a big advocate on donation.
“My parents were married over 50 years. When my mom died a year later, nobody realized how much she did for my dad.” A year after the transplant, DuWayne had his hips replaced. Bone diseases and problems can occur after kidney transplantation and medications such as steroids are taken, especially within the first-year post-transplant. Over the years, DuWayne has had four sets of hips and two sets of shoulders. His family refer to him as the bionic man.
Even after all those health issues, DuWayne caught Covid in November 2021. He was put in hospice because of his compromised health, but graduated out of it in February of 2022. He hadn’t opened his eyes in a week, but they opened when the family was asked about funeral plans. DuWayne wasn’t done yet! DuWayne is now in memory care in Little Falls and has many family and friends who visit him often.
Lora always wanted to reach out to her father’s kidney donor / family. She did after her mom passed away, but the letter was returned. All they knew was the donor was an 18 year old male who was in a motorcycle accident. She always takes a pause when she sees a young man on a motorcycle , hopefully with a helmet on his head.
Photos: Cover photo DuWayne with his Sears and Roebuck van, 1966 | 1978 Welcome Home neighborhood sign | DuWayne and Lottie’s 50th wedding anniversary | DuWayne with his loving children Lora and Jon | A Covid birthday | A Covid visit | This past Christmas with family
Join us on February 11 for the 60th anniversary celebration of Hennepin Healthcare’s Kidney Transplant Program.