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How a Simple Friendship Turned Into a Lifesaving One

When Krystal Cable was growing up, Dave Polen helped her get medical care. Three decades later, she more than returned the favor

spinner image Krystal Cable leaning up against pole, wearing green shirt that says kidney donor because who wouldn't want a piece of this?
Krystal Cable, seen here at her home in Shafer, Minnesota, forged a relationship with Dave Polen after he volunteered to drive her to childhood medical appointments.
Ackerman + Gruber

Krystal Cable, 38, is a team leader for a company that builds custom fire trucks. She lives in Shafer, Minnesota. Dave Polen, 70, is retired from a career at a power plant. He lives in Petersburg, Indiana.

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Krystal Cable: I was born with a defect on my right leg, and it had to be amputated. My treatment growing up was at Shriners Children’s hospital in St. Louis, about three hours’ drive from where we lived in Indiana. Between fittings for new prosthetic legs and other appointments, I made that trip at least three or four times a year as a kid. That’s how I met Dave.

Dave Polen: I belong to Hadi Shrine, an Evansville, Indiana, fraternal organization connected to Shriners Children’s hospitals, which give free medical treatment. I started volunteering to drive kids to and from the hospital on my days off work. A lot of people don’t have reliable transportation to get there, or the money.

“I wondered, ‘Why was I born without a leg?’ But if that’s part of the plan, so I can meet Dave and do this, so be it. ”

Krystal: Dave and my mom would talk a lot when he drove. My mom was taking me by herself because my dad had to leave for work at 3 a.m. Dave was always so kind. Giving.

Dave: Krystal and her mom were outstanding. We stayed in touch. My wife and I attended Krystal’s wedding in 2015. Then a few years later, I was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. I knew Krystal’s husband had had a liver transplant, so when the doctors started talking to me about needing a kidney transplant, I reached out to Krystal to learn a little about the process. She asked what type of blood I had and I told her A positive, and she said, “That’s what I’ve got.” She offered to be a donor. But with her being a young mother, I felt I couldn’t ask her to do that.

spinner image Dave Polen sitting on porch step of home
Dave Polen, photographed at his home in Petersburg, Indiana, shares how Krystal Cable gifted him a life-saving kidney.
Jonathon Chi

Krystal: I wanted to, though. I had almost lost my husband to congenital liver disease. None of my family were a match to donate to my husband, but a guy we worked with was perfect. He gave my husband the gift of life. It changed everything. So when I heard Dave might need a kidney, I was, like, “Yes.” Anything to give someone else that gift.

Dave: They told me it could be a five-year wait for a cadaver donor. Some people die waiting. In the meantime, I went on dialysis. It’s exhausting and time-consuming, but it keeps you alive. Krystal kept pressing, and after a year of dialysis, I was ready to take her up on her offer. So she did all the tests, and it turns out she was right: She was a match. Last May, she and I had our transplant surgeries. I can’t thank her and her family enough. You never can repay what she did, as much as I want to.

Krystal: I had always pondered why Dave was so good to us. When he would stop by and we weren’t home, he would leave a stuffed animal or something. At the same time, I wondered, Why was I born without a leg? But if that’s part of the plan, so I can meet Dave and do this, so be it. It gave me an answer to a lot.

Dave: I tell myself every day how blessed I am that Krystal gave me her kidney. I’ve never been real religious, but I do a lot more praying now.


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