A Matter of Life and Death
Four lifelong friends who participated in UY programs years ago credit their experience with teaching them to act selflessly. One of the four put that concept into practice by donating her kidney to another in the group.
Deep, abiding friendships are a common theme among University of Minnesota students who’ve participated in UY programs during their studies. But Diane Horak (B.I.S. ’86) may be the only one whose story includes donating an organ.
Horak, a senior marketing consultant at RBC Wealth Management, met three of the most important people in her life through the UY in the early 1980s: her husband Craig Partridge (B.A. ’89), a web developer at BAE Systems; her close friend Andrea Dale (B.A. ’86), a junior high school student service coordinator, and Andrea’s husband Jim Dale (B.A. ’85), a certified massage therapist. Horak, Dale, and Partridge had all been involved in the UY Metro Internship Program in Corporate Social Responsibility, which they say shaped them both professionally and personally.
The two couples’ bonds were forged as they engaged through the UY in profound, life-shaping discussions about race and the societal challenges of being mixed-race couples. “These conversations were never artificial or superficial,” Andrea Dale says. “We were challenging our own beliefs, and each other’s.” Ever since, she adds, “we’ve shared all of our ups and downs, all of our struggles and triumphs.”
They stayed close after graduation, including as Jim Dale faced kidney disease. (In the U.S. 12 people die every day waiting for a kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation.)
As Jim’s health declined, Partridge and Horak looked on in worry. Andrea’s kidney wasn’t a match for Jim, and their daughter had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes, which meant she couldn’t be a donor, either. One night, as they celebrated the Dales’ daughter’s graduation, Horak says, it struck her that “Jim looked like he was 90. He was in rough, rough shape. And I just started thinking, ‘I’m really healthy. Why not me? For me, [donating] felt like a no-brainer.’” She spoke to her husband and their daughters about it, and Partridge jokes that his initial reaction was, “Wait, maybe I want to do that!”
When they told the Dales, Jim Dale says “we were all sobbing.” They knew the endeavor—like any surgery—carried risks.
Andrea Dale remembers the day of the transplant, in November 2012, as a blur of running up and down the hospital from Jim’s floor to Diane’s. “I remember saying to this surgeon, ‘You cannot F this up. Nothing can go wrong. Those are my two best friends on the table.’” To no one’s surprise, their old UY mentor, Jean Burkhardt, showed up at the hospital, as well. “She’s our family, too,” Andrea says.
Surgery went swimmingly, and Diane’s kidney—“the Ferrari of kidneys,” as one nurse put it—turned out to be an ideal fit for Jim. “It [felt] like it was meant to be,” Partridge says.
For 40 years, the four have remained tight. All credit their formative years in the UY with fostering that closeness. “We had always had these real, authentic conversations. And now, how do you get any more real? Now we’re talking mortality—either [Jim or Diane] could have had a [bad] outcome,” Andrea Dale says, But as Jim adds, “we would take a bullet for each other.”
Today, Partridge calls their friendships, born and nurtured through the UY, “a total love story.”
“[And] Diane saved Jim’s life,” says Andrea. Jim named his kidney Onnie, for Horak’s childhood nickname. On the rare instances when he briefly gets a bit cavalier about his health, “I feel guilty,” he says. “I gotta protect Onnie!”
And now, every November 29, the anniversary of the transplant, the four celebrate Onnie Day.