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Life after an organ transplant; fundraising event planned for July 27

Becky Bonte Draper, a St. Croix Central graduate, currently lives in Trego. She had a pancreas and kidney transplant a little over a year ago due to complications from type 1 diabetes. The cost of her medications each month is astronomical, and a fundraising event in her honor is planned for Sunday, July 27, at Pheasant Hills Golf Course in Hammond. (Submitted photo)

When people make the decision to check the box on their driver’s licenses to become an organ donor, do they really know how that little orange circle can change someone’s life? Becky Bonte Draper does.

Draper was the recipient of a donor pancreas and kidney in June 2013.

Draper, a 1977 St. Croix Central High School graduate, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 18. She has been an insulin-dependent diabetic for 36 years, she said. She was able to control the disease with diet and medication for many years.

“My diet was low carbohydrate and my medication was insulin,” Draper said. “I went from a single injection of insulin to multiple-injection therapy, and finally to an insulin pump, which gave me more control.”

Draper said when she was 23, home blood glucose testing meters became affordable, so she was able to test herself several times a day to stay on track. Even with careful monitoring and care, the kidneys of a person with type 1 diabetes will degrade over time.

“I was praised by my doctors for surviving 36 years with type 1 diabetes with my original kidneys,” Draper said. “I credit my insulin pump and some great medical professionals for that accomplishment. I discovered it was time to think about a kidney transplant or dialysis about two years prior to my transplant.”

Draper, who lives in Trego but has family throughout the Hudson, New Richmond and Hammond area, was on an organ waiting list for two years. Both of her kidneys were near failure.

“During the waiting period, several of my family members and friends volunteered to qualify as a kidney donor for me,” Draper said. “The qualification process was arduous, and all of my potential donors were eliminated or put on hold because of other health issues in their lives.”

Draper’s doctors planned to match her with a live kidney donor, then follow up with a pancreas transplant from a cadaver six months later. Pancreas transplants are necessary when type 1 diabetics receive kidney transplants so their bodies don’t damage the new kidney, Draper said.

Draper was able to avoid dialysis, but she said, “It came down to the wire. I was feeling pretty poorly when I got the call from the University of Minnesota that matching organs were available for me.

“The day I received the call from the U of M Transplant Center letting me know that organs were available for me was a miracle!” Draper said. “I was elated. The night before I was so sick, I had planned to get up and go straight to the emergency room. What a huge change of plans.”

Draper’s transplants were performed June 15, 2013, at the University of Minnesota Transplant Center at Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis. She received a pancreas and kidney from a cadaver donor, whose information remains anonymous. Draper said she was on her feet with a walker shortly thereafter. She was released one week later.

Draper said her health has improved since the transplant, but she still deals with some long-term effects caused by failing kidneys. She has also had heart surgery to remove a piece of calcium that her failing kidneys caused to lodge in the mitral valve of her heart.

She will need to take anti-rejection medications for the rest of her life to prevent her body from rejecting the donor organs.
“The immunosuppressant meds I take cost around $2,600 per month and I pay about $600 per month after insurance,” Draper said. “Combined with the other medications I am required to take, along with high health insurance premiums, attaches a high price tag to my life.”

Fundraising event

Draper said her brother, Ronnie Bonte, is hosting a benefit to help with her medical expenses at Pheasant Hills Golf Course (1025 170th St., Hammond) from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 27.

“Several of my family members and friends spent a lot of time putting the benefit together on my behalf,” Draper said. “I want to thank them with all my heart.”

A golf tournament, lunch/dinner, silent auction and bake sale will be held. The golf tournament is a four-person, nine-hole scramble with a shotgun start at 2 p.m. The $40 entry fee includes lunch.

For more information contact Lisa Schultz at 612-483-5105. To donate online, visit

“Think twice about checking the organ donor box on your driver’s license,” Draper said. “You could change countless lives by choosing to be an organ donor.”

Kidney transplant facts

  • There are 122,737 people waiting for organ transplants in the U.S.
  • 100,602 people in the U.S. are awaiting kidney transplants.
  • On average, 2,500 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.
  •  Fourteen people die each day while waiting for a kidney transplant.
  •  Every 20 minutes someone is added to the kidney transplant waiting list.
  •  Last year, 3,381 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant.

Source: National Kidney Foundation

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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