Dan Knippel, one of Wisconsin’s first successful kidney donors

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) – Dan Knippel and his brother, Fred Knippel, both helped start kidney donation in Wisconsin.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of a major milestone in the Knippel family. Dan donated a kidney to his brother on July 21, 1972. At the time, it was a risky operation with no guarantees, but this courageous decision impacted the whole family.

“Let’s go, gang,” Dan Knippel said, raising a glass of champagne.

The family has a lot to celebrate right now. It’s the 69 of Dan and his wife Joycee wedding anniversary.

“Thanks for sticking around, kid,” Dan told Joyce with a laugh.

But this month also marks another milestone.

“To faith, courage and love,” Dan said.

The family calls this celebration a “kidney versary.”

“Life is really something else. Every day is an adventure, I think,” Dan said.

Fortunately, Dan has an adventurous spirit. That’s what helped him make the decision to donate a kidney to his brother, Fred, whom he called Fritz.

“I came home and Joyce said ‘what are you doing’ and I said ‘I’m going to give Fritz a kidney. So, needless to say, it didn’t go too well with her,” he said with a chuckle.

Joyce agreed.

“It was very, very scary for our family,” she said. “I just thought he was crazy at the time.”

This is because back then, in 1972, kidney donation was still a revolutionary operation.

“Imagine being the one who does something no one else has done before, and you could die,” said Fred’s daughter, Stephanie Knippel.

“They only had that in weird movies like Frankenstein, okay,” Dan added.

But Dan and Fred trusted the new science.

“I said, if that’s what it takes, I’ve got two and I think you’ll tell me I can spare one. Which one, I believe you. I don’t know why I did , but I believed it. But needless to say, it worked. And here I am, after 50 years,” he said.

It wasn’t the family’s first transplant. Fred had obtained a kidney from his sister, Pat, in 1968.

“I still remember that part of my dad saying on his 37th birthday that he was publicly thanking God,” Fred’s daughter Karen Lepak said.

But this kidney was not a perfect match and ultimately failed. Fred therefore had to turn to a completely new technology.

“He went on dialysis, my mom said, when they were unpacking the machines at the hospital,” Lepak said.

But it turned out that Dan’s kidney was a perfect match. Lepak and Stephanie Knippel were young then, but they remember their father’s illness and surgery.

“Ever since we were little, he was sick,” Stephanie said.

“After receiving Uncle Dan’s kidney, his second transplant, he was brought back to life,” Karen said. “He felt good. He did things. They bought a house.”

Fred was lucky enough to walk his daughter down the aisle and meet his granddaughter.

“It’s really a story of courage, hope, faith and courage,” Lepak said.

In some ways, the transplant affected the whole family.

“What they’ve done helps other people, and it’s helped other people, and it’s still helping other people, and it’s a magical thing to be able to help people,” Stephanie said.

Fred Knippel died of a stroke in 1985, but Dan’s kidney was still strong and that’s how his daughters remember him.

“He was tough as nails, he didn’t take a puff from anybody. Either you liked him or you didn’t like him,” Lepak said with a smile.

Fred Knippel also helped found the Wisconsin chapter of the Kidney Foundation.

“Fritz was a pioneer in getting people to volunteer to be donors,” Dan said.

The whole family now encourages others to think about being organ donors. And while it was a scary choice to make at the time, Dan said it was still the right one.

“You’re probably going to ask me, would I do it again? I said, no doubt. But then I would have told my wife a little in advance what I’m going to do,” he said. he says with a laugh.

For more information on the Kidney Foundation, click here.

And if you’d like to nominate an everyday hero, message Natalie at [email protected]

Luz W. German