Spring 2019

A perfect match

Sisters’ special bond drives support for living-donor transplant research at the U

Alison Caldwell and Gwen Stanley

It was 1997, and Alison Caldwell remembers watching a lot of Golden Gopher basketball with her sister—but not much else. Caldwell was in a fog after donating a kidney to save her sister’s life.

Gwen Stanley, 14 years older than Caldwell, was diagnosed with lupus in her mid-20s. An autoimmune disorder, lupus affects each person differently. In Stanley’s case, it attacked her kidneys. By the time she was diagnosed, her kidney function was already down to about 50 percent. Her doctor told her she would likely need a transplant when she was 30. She made it to 40.

Stanley and Caldwell were a perfect transplant match, as close as identical twins: six for six antigens in addition to blood type. Caldwell recalls being tested twice because the doctors couldn’t believe the results the first time. After the surgery, Stanley felt immediately better.

In the intervening years, Stanley began a career in community banking, rising from her first job as a part-time teller at Riverside Bank in Minneapolis as a freshman at the University of Minnesota to eventually cofounding Venture Bank in 2001. When Venture was acquired by Choice Financial last year, “I came into some money,” Stanley says, “so it seemed like a good year to do something.”

That “something” became making a major gift to support living-donor transplant research led by Arthur Matas, M.D., a professor in the Medical School’s Department of Surgery. The University is world-renowned for its transplant program and is the only center in the country doing long-term follow-up research on living-donor transplants.

Stanley decided to support the U’s study because it tracks both transplant recipients and donors—and because she feels deeply grateful to her sister.

Today, both are in good health. The sisters celebrate their “anniversary” every year, on March 6. Caldwell doesn’t pause to do the math: they just hit the 22-year-mark.