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True friend shares the gift of life

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:05 PM

Definition of a true friend Jack Kuhlman, of Monroeville.

He's not just giving a helping hand to Jim Kimberlin, of Bellevue. Kuhlman is giving Kimberlin the gift of life Jan. 18 when one of Kuhlman's kidneys will be transplanted into Kimberlin.

Kimberlin, 42, and Kuhlman, 39, met 11 years ago when they both started work at CertainTeed in Avery. They became friends as well as co-workers.

After an industrial accident in 1994, Kimberlin discovered he suffered from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that runs in his family. It causes kidneys to develop cysts and eventually shut down.

Once a healthy kidney is transplanted, the recipient can live a normal, healthy life with the help of anti-rejection medication.

Kimberlin's mother, Linda Johnston, received a kidney transplant from a cadaver more than five years ago and her brother got a kidney from his wife three years ago. Kimberlin's brother, who died in an automobile accident several years ago, and Johnston's other siblings also were diagnosed with the disease.

"They've been tracking it and thought I had a lot longer," Kimberlin said. "But for the past couple of years my function has been really down."

The Bellevue man is now on dialysis.

"I'm living now with no kidneys," he said.

They were removed in December because they were too diseased to function. Kimberlin spends four hours three times a week at the Firelands Dialysis Center in Sandusky.

Kimberlin said because his family has faced this disease before, his relatives knew a transplant would eventually be his only hope. They posted notices about organ donation by living donors and waited.

He was overcome when his good friend Kuhlman stepped up to the plate and offered his kidney. But Kuhlman didn't just come out and tell Kimberlin the news.

"Jack got tested, but I didn't know about it at the time," Kimberlin said. "He did that without anyone knowing."

"I didn't know how to tell him," Kuhlman said. "I kept it a secret from him because I didn't want him to get his hopes up until I knew for sure."

Kimberlin gives this account of Kuhlman's news when he walked up to Kimberlin at work one day last fall:

Kuhlman: "Hey, I've got to go to the Cleveland Clinic. Do you think you could give me a ride?"

Kimberlin: "Sure. Do you know what building you're going to?"

Kuhlman: "I don't. I've just got to give some guy my kidney."

"At first, it didn't hit me," Kimberlin said. "Jack said, 'Did you hear me?' I was just in shock."

Kimberlin still gets choked up when he talks about that day.

"It is very rare that someone outside your family will donate," he said. His family can't donate because of the genetic component of the disease.

"Words can't describe it; they really can't," Kimberlin said.

"We worked side by side for about a year and it was when he was really becoming sick," Kuhlman said. "He wasn't feeling right and was too proud to tell anybody."

When the news came out, Kuhlman added, he realized how desperately sick his friend was.

Kuhlman has a simple explanation for his decision.

"He's a friend," he said. "He was in need of it and I just felt that his family needed him more than I needed a second kidney."

Kimberlin and his wife, Beth, are the parents of Noah, 25, and Megan, 19, a freshman at Lake Erie College. Their youngest son, Jamie, 15, is a freshman at Bellevue High School.

Kuhlman said his large family supports his decision.

"Their main concern was whether something would happen to me," he said.

Kuhlman is the father of Ashley, 18, Gage, 16, and Kylee, 11. His girlfriend, Kerrie Davis, 37, and her son Logan, 12, live with him. Kuhlman also has 10 brothers and sisters.

The two families are now working together to support both men.

Peggy White, Kuhlman's sister, of Norwalk, said her siblings are proud of his decision.

* * *


A rigatoni benefit for Jim Kimberlin, of Bellevue, and Jack Kuhlman, of Monroeville, will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Sandusky Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2529, 604 W. Perkins Ave., Sandusky. The event will feature live music, a bake sale, raffles, 50/50 drawings, a silent auction and a cash bar.

Tickets will be $7 for adults, $5 for students and free for children aged 5 and under. Raffle tickets for a one-night stay at Kalahari will be $5 each or three for $10.

Carry-out meals are available.

VFW 2529, Sandusky Fastpitch Association and USW Local 5-0363 are co-sponsoring the event.

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