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Brennan's lucky day

PARK RIVER, N.D. To Brennan Foerster, Oct. 10, 2004, is a lucky day. The 15-year-old was driving from his farm home near Pisek, N.D., to church in Lankin, N.D., about 10:15 a.m., when another vehicle ran a stop sign, slamming his car into the ditch.

PARK RIVER, N.D. To Brennan Foerster, Oct. 10, 2004, is a lucky day.

The 15-year-old was driving from his farm home near Pisek, N.D., to church in Lankin, N.D., about 10:15 a.m., when another vehicle ran a stop sign, slamming his car into the ditch.

"I was T-boned," he said.

Besides a few other injuries, Brennan suffered a severe cut to his arm. He went back home and then to First Care Health Center in Park River.

"They said I lost about half my blood," he said. "At the hospital, they found out I was in kidney failure.

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"In that sense, the accident was lucky. That's when I found out I only had 30 percent function of my kidney."

That's kidney. Not kidneys.

Brennan was born with just one.

And it's failing.

Brennan is scheduled to receive a kidney transplant March 8, the day after his 18th birthday. The donor is his uncle, Ken Ohlheiser, a Grand Forks native now living in Fort Collins, Colo.

Not-so-normal routine

Brennan's parents, Matt and Shanna Foerster, knew he had only one kidney when he was an infant. Shanna, a registered nurse, said they had every indication that he could live a normal life.

"We doctored with him and were told that he was doing fine, and that his kidney was functioning at a normal level," his mother said. "He never showed any symptoms of kidney failure over the years."

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The car accident changed everything.

The kidney continued to deteriorate over the next several months. By September 2006, with the kidney functioning at just 7 percent, he started a daily routine of dialysis.

Today, his kidney is functioning at just 4 percent to 5 percent of normal.

Still, Brennan balances school, extracurricular activities and daily dialysis 10 hours a night hooked up to a machine at home.

The dialysis machine, which boosts the function by 10 percent to 15 percent, is in his bedroom. While connected through a catheter, he can move from his bed to a couch, a bathroom, a desk, computer and television.

"It's a 25-foot leash," said classmate Cody Stark.

Finding a donor

When it appeared that a transplant was inevitable, doctors first tested Brennan's immediate family.

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Doctors found that Matt and Shanna were incompatible kidney donors, because they do not have the same blood type.

"My mom was especially disappointed because she wanted to be the one to give her kidney," Brennan said.

Other relatives were checked, with no success.

Shanna's sister, Merry Lynn Ohlheiser, is Type O, the same as Brennan. However, after a succession of tests, the family learned that she did not match either.

Then, Merry Lynn's husband, Ken, volunteered to test as well. Also Type O, doctors ultimately said he is a match.

The Foersters and Ohlheisers will meet in Minneapolis a couple of days before the transplant.

"I can't say enough about him, about someone who would volunteer to do this for me," Brennan said.

The Foersters also dealt with another health scare this winter.

Matt Foerster had prostate cancer surgery at Altru on Feb. 6. He returned home Friday. Doctors say he cannot return to work for about six weeks.

"There's no other cancer, so I was lucky that way," Matt said Wednesday.

While he recovers, he said he's working on his farm financial records.

"I should be OK. I'll have plenty of time before spring work," he said.

Shanna, a registered nurse at Good Samaritan Center in Larimore, N.D., admits dealing with two family health scares can be overwhelming. "It's hard to keep it at a professional level when it's someone you love," she said.

"In the beginning, when I first found out about Brennan, I couldn't go a day without going hysterical, crying," she said. "It was really difficult. It's taken me a year and a half to look at this with a clear head."

Then, when her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it started all over again.

"I just decided I had to look at the positive side," she said. "Brennan's accident, it was a blessing. Things happen for a reason. If he hadn't had that accident, he could have gone into in renal failure."

Organizing a benefit

Classmates Sam Zikmund, Kellen Dobmeier, Andrew Anderson and Stark first started talking three months ago about doing something to help Brennan. Their mothers got involved and before long, a spaghetti benefit was organized.

"We just decided our senior class should do something for him," Sam said. They're among a senior class of 16 boys and 13 girls.

Brennan, Zikmund, Dobmeier and Stark have been friends since the first grade. Anderson enrolled in Park River in the seventh grade.

The boys are together during school and in after-school activities some organized, some not.

Most of them are in band. Brennan plays percussion bass drum, cymbals, timpani and others.

He and his buddies clown around and do serious work in speech class and contests.

They participate in 4-H and FFA. And they bowl together.

They're also known for setting off fireworks around town they claim sometimes 30,000 of them at a time on July 4th and New Year's Eve.

Brennan also played high school football with his family's blessing until his sophomore year, when one of his coaches learned that he had only one kidney.

"All of us knew it. We supported him. He's one of us," Sam said. But they couldn't convince the coach.

Sam spent three hours last Saturday asking local merchants for permission to hang posters advertising the fundraising event.

"It was minus 15 degrees," he said, adding that nobody turned him down. "It's nice the community's willing to help out."

"I'm really lucky to have friends like them," Brennan said.

The feeling is mutual. "We're just helping a friend," Andrew said.

"There couldn't be a nicer guy," Kellen said.

Looking ahead

Brennan has been an inspiration to others, too. "I've been really admiring how he's gone through this," said Principal David Beckman. "His attitude is especially positive. He's focused."

Brennan hopes to get back to school sometime in April and to graduate in May. He plans to enroll in UND and pursue an engineering or chemistry degree.

"He's probably got the best attitude anyone could have. He's pretty laid-back," Matt said. "If he was a person that worried about things, he'd be a mess. Nothing seems to phase the kid."

"I just decided with Brennan, that from this moment on, I'm only going to look at the positive side of this," Shanna said. "He can live a normal life with this. It could be so much worse."

It's a lesson that's not lost on her son.

"I'm excited that I'll get back to a more normal life," Brennan said.

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