Siblings Share Passion for Education … and a Kidney

Jamie and Tim Robinson.

Both DMPS educators, this summer Jaime Robinson donated a kidney to her brother Tim.

The right arm is usually offered as the gold standard of devotion or desire or commitment. As in, “I’d give my right arm for (fill in the blank).”

While that’s not an insignificant sacrifice, arms aren’t vital organs. Kidneys, now they’re a different story. And so is this one about sisterly and brotherly love.

Jaime Robinson is a counselor/behavior strategist at Morris Elementary School. Tim Robinson teaches kindergarten at Capitol View Elementary School. They grew up together but appeared to be nothing alike. She was an athlete. He was a musician. They didn’t get along. As siblings often are, they were more rivals than teammates. Maybe Tim would give Jaime a piece of his mind. And vice versa.

Before their father, Dr. Greg Robinson, joined the School of Education at Iowa State University he was Iowa’s Elementary Principal of the Year in 1998 when he was at Jensen Elementary School in Urbandale. So maybe education is in their blood. And maybe that’s at the root of the late-blooming compatibility that made Jaime a suitable kidney donor for her big brother. Tim suffers from chronic kidney disease.

“I woke up one morning about six years ago and noticed that both my ankles were swollen,” Tim recalls now. Cutting to the chase, a battery of testing at the hospital led to a diagnosis that hit him like a blunt object. “The doctor said ‘I don’t know how to tell you this but you’re in end-stage renal failure.’”

The Robinsons rallied the troops and a batch of friends and family were tested for donor compatibility. Jaime and two others qualified but Jaime ranked third on the criteria index. Tim received a kidney from a non-biological cousin about five years ago and resumed normal living. Sometime last year he got notice that his new lease on life was running out.

“I never missed a day of school last year,” he said, “but I was getting so tired I started going straight home to bed.” Plans were made for a spring transplant but complications arose that pushed it back until summertime. That allowed both Jaime, who leapfrogged cousin #2 in the donor pecking order despite fewer matching blood antigens, and Tim to finish the school year on the job but it also meant that Tim had to endure a couple of months of afterschool dialysis.

Finally, on July 12th the surgery was performed. What was offered of Jaime’s body was accepted by Tim’s and a strange sort of swap was consummated.

“The very next morning Tim came down to my room at the hospital and said how great he was feeling and how hungry he was,” Jaime said. “I was glad that my kidney was working so well for him but I didn’t feel so good.”

Jaime was on a liquid diet for a week. Doctors had explained to her that when a healthy person undergoes major surgery they can expect to feel worse, temporarily. Tim, on the other hand, was gravely ill, so of course he felt immediately better. Now they’re both recovering nicely. Jaime was cleared to go back to full duty and reported on schedule at Morris last Friday. Tim won’t be back in his classroom at Capitol View tomorrow when the 2106-17 year begins, but he expects to be in about three weeks which would be a few weeks ahead of schedule for a transplant recipient.

Besides new layers of how precious and fragile life is Tim and Jaime learned a lot about living organ donation through their shared ordeal. Most of us only think about organ donation when it’s time to renew a driver’s license. But not all transplants come from people who have died. About half of all organ donors are living but more are needed with more than 100,000 people on transplant waiting lists in the United States alone.

“Transplants from living donors have less chance of rejection,” said Tim. “And they tend to last longer,” said Jaime, completing the thought. Consider them ambassadors for living organ donation and living proof that, at least in certain matters of life and death, giving and receiving are equally good gestures.

Both Robinsons are 10-year DMPS veterans. Tim has been a kindergarten teacher from the start. Jaime taught 1st grade at Brubaker for five years before taking a year off to work at the Youth Emergency Services Shelter while she went back to school and got her counseling credentials.

“Working at YESS I realized that my heart really is in helping the most troubled kids,” she said. And her extra kidney is in her brother who is about to complete an incredible journey all the way back from kidney dialysis to the helm of a kindergarten classroom. From running on empty to full of life.

What did you do over summer vacation? Happy New (School) Year!

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