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Living kidney donation between lifelong friends breaks down cultural barriers

June 7, 2021

During a landmark case in 1879 in Omaha to declare Native Americans as persons under federal law, Standing Bear is known to have said: “This hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”

This is a sentiment held closely by the Nipp family, who adopted a Native American baby boy from the Ogallala Sioux Tribe nearly 50 years ago.

Their son, Mark Wounded Arrow Nipp, previously in kidney failure, received a kidney from a lifelong Caucasian friend. Mark, his mother and his kidney donor Sara Wachter recalled the quote by Standing Bear nearly a month ago when sitting down for an interview about their donation experience.

“You’re 100 percent Ogallala Sioux,” his mother said to Mark during the interview in Sara’s Omaha home. “Sara is German and Irish, but you can have her kidney.”

The donation of Sara’s kidney to Mark not only saved Mark’s life and allowed him to live a life free of dialysis, but it also highlights how people of different ethnic backgrounds can donate to each other.

Mark, a 50 year old Native American man, previously worked at the Magnolia Hotel Omaha before COVID changed our lives. He hopes to return to the same kind of work in guest services now that he has received his new kidney on June 1 at Nebraska Medicine.

Mark endured a terrible hospital stay in 2016 after a wound on his leg became septic. Because he was also diabetic, he went into renal failure and was put on a ventilator and dialysis at that time. His family nearly lost him.

Since then, Mark has been on dialysis. He went three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5:30-9:30 a.m. On the days he received dialysis, Mark knew not to plan many activities because of the exhaustion brought on by the lifesaving procedure.

Sara has known Mark since he was adopted by the Nipps. A lifelong family friend, Sara grew up in Omaha and has always worked in education. She has a passion for educating not only children, but their parents. She opened Duchesne Preschool 23 years ago.

Now 60 years old, Sara says she has always been a registered donor on her driver’s license. That spurred the thought in her that if someday, someone needed a kidney or a liver, she would rise to the occasion.

The process to become Mark’s kidney donor was truly eye-opening, Sara said.

“I had no idea how many things could disqualify you from donating,” she said. “I also had no idea how healthy I was.”

In total, seven family members and friends attempted to become Mark’s kidney donor, but Sara was the only one to pass the screening questions.

“I made it through the first screening, and I told Ann (Mark’s sister), ‘I know I’m it,’” Sara said of the process.

Not only did Sara pass the first round of screening questions, but she also passed all the medical and psychological evaluations. And her blood and tissue type matched Mark’s.

“It’s truly a miracle,” Mary Ann said. “Wakan Tanka (God) had his hand in this.”

On the day Sara found out she was a perfect match for Mark, she called Mark’s family to let them know. They all decided to give the news to Mark in person.

Sara, Mark and Mark’s family all had coffee the next morning, and Sara gave Mark a gift bag. Inside, Mark found a can of kidney beans.

“No kidney?” Mark asked.

“Nope, sorry,” Sara said, “but there’s a card inside.”

The card read: ‘Mark, this is the day we’ve all been praying for. You have a match. I’m your donor. I’ll see you at UNMC on June 1.’

“The card is still in my living room at home,” Mark said.

Mark and Sara on the day Sara shared she would be Mark’s living donor. 

Sara and Mark continued to have dinners together once a week to spend time together before the surgery.

Those connections and relationships are the biggest ways donation has changed Sara’s life, she said. Other than that, Sara knows her day-to-day life will continue on in the same way it has before the surgery.



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