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Cottage Grove resident Jim Gorbunow built a giant wooden kidney in an attempt solicit a life-saving donor. He garnered nationwide attention in January following the construction of a 5-foot snow kidney. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)
Cottage Grove resident Jim Gorbunow built a giant wooden kidney in an attempt solicit a life-saving donor. He garnered nationwide attention in January following the construction of a 5-foot snow kidney. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

Still waiting: Cottage Grove man continues search for life-saving kidney

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news Cottage Grove, 55016

Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

A large pink kidney is not an uncommon sight in one Cottage Grove neighborhood.

Whether it’s a 5-foot-tall snow and ice sculpture or now a wooden cut-out, longtime resident Jim Gorbunow’s search for a life-saving donor continues to be visible.

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And while he remains hopeful his health is quickly deteriorating, forcing Gorbunow to begin dialysis as doctors have given him a grim diagnosis: end-stage renal failure.

“It just kind of lets the air out of your sails,” he said.

This last year has been one of highs and lows for Gorbunow and his wife, Jennie. Following the viral success of the snow kidney the couple built in January to solicit potential organ donors — a frosty feat that landed them on the CBS daytime talk show “The Doctors” — a number of willing candidates stepped forward. From family and friends to neighbors and complete strangers half-way across the globe, prospective donors flooded the University of Minnesota’s donor line.

“They actually had to open up a separate line because they were getting so many calls,” Gorbunow said. “It restored my faith in people to see so many, complete strangers even, step up and want to help me.”

But because he underwent a transplant of both a pancreas and kidney in 2000, Gorbunow said finding matches as an already “transplanted” patient is significantly harder. Despite the number of willing donors, none were found.

Now that the fame has run its course and still without a donor, Gorbunow started dialysis earlier this month.

For nine hours each week he watches as 540 minutes slowly pass. His left arm, flush with IV tubes, rests motionless as he undergoes dialysis three days a week for his failing kidney. Time, a concept he thought wouldn’t be as precious following his first kidney transplant 14 years ago, is now ticking away.

“Right now my good days are a little ahead of my bad days,” he said. But with a kidney functioning at less than 20 percent, Gorbunow’s health is uncertain. “That’s why I decided to go on dialysis.”

A former police reserve officer for the city of Cottage Grove, he spends some of his time at dialysis watching reruns of “Cops,” he thinks about things he could do to enhance his powder blue Mercury Comet, and he envisions more fundraisers in the future. However, he said sometimes his mind wonders.

“It sucks having to be in here for three hours a day; it starts to play tricks on your mind,” he admitted. “I’m only 43, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about dying.”

Positively pink

In an effort to help keep his mind focused on a more positive outlook, the Gorbunows are approaching their search for a donor in yet another unique way similar to the snow kidney; except this time it’s plywood.

“Jennie drew it up and helped me paint it, and Jennie's dad cut it out,” Gorbunow said.

The 5-foot-tall, Pepto-Bismol pink wooden kidney he nicknamed “Pinky” stands at the corner of Hillside and Hilo trails, taking over the same spot where last winter “Kevin” the snow kidney stood. He said neighbors and homeowners in the area are used to seeing the giant kidney and that most all have heard his story. Still amazed by the nationwide success of his ice organ, he said he’s hoping the wooden kidney will also catch on.

“Who would have thought that I would get so much attention from plopping a big ice chunk in the shape of a kidney in my front yard,” he said. “Who knows with Pinky, I guess we’ll see.”

Because Gorbunow is on dialysis and considered in end-stage renal failure, it has triggered him to “go active” on the national transplant list, something that gives him even more time to wait, he said.

“I’m hoping for that call,” he said. “The call that says there’s a kidney waiting for me. I’ll be down (to the University of Minnesota) so fast.

“At the end of the day you just have to stay positive,” he added. “And I’m really lucky to have an amazing support system in Jennie, my friends and my family. I just have to keep a smile on my face and be that Jim that everybody knows.”

For more information about Gorbunow or how to be a donor, email Gorbunow at Kidney4Jim@gmail.com.

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