School of Nursing

The Roger DeSmith Renal-Diabetes Research Award for Nursing Students

Photo of Roger DeSmith and daughter

Kristin and Roger DeSmith

My father grew up on a small working farm in rural Wisconsin. He attended a one-room country school with his five siblings. His father, who only had an eighth grade education, drove a grader for the county and worked the family farm when his shift ended each day. My father knew he wanted something different for his family, and the only way to do that would be through getting a college education.

After serving four years in the US Navy, my dad enrolled in the University of Minnesota. He was newly married and as he described it, so broke that they had to dig through the couch cushions to find enough change for the bus ride to campus.

Without private scholarships, my dad wouldn't have been able to complete his bachelor's degree in business administration, especially after the arrival of an "earlier than expected" adopted daughter during his final year of school.

Shortly after being hired by the Kimberly Clark corporation, my dad was diagnosed with type one diabetes. He was diligent about taking great care of himself, but after 25 years of living with this chronic illness, his kidneys began to fail. At the age of 48, he needed a kidney transplant. His brothers and sisters all agreed to be tested. No one matched. He went on dialysis while he waited for a kidney from the national donor bank. After two years, the call came, but complications from the surgery would cause the newly transplanted kidney to fail within two days of the surgery. He was devastated.

It was at that time that I began pushing his doctors to test me as a possible donor. The answer was "no -- you're adopted." At time, non-blood related kidney donor transplants were unheard of. They told us the chances of a match were one in a million. I didn't give up. After six months of phone calls, they finally gave in and tested me. I was a match. We were the first non-blood related living donor kidney transplant done by the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minnesota.

When my father finally lost his life to diabetes in 2011, he'd had my kidney for 22 years, nearly a record.

Before he died, we decided together to create a scholarship for nursing students at UAA in his name. I can't think of a better way to honor his memory than to help a deserving student advance the field of kidney and diabetes research right here in Anchorage, Alaska.


Kristin DeSmith