It’s unusual enough for someone to have the same best friend for 55 years. More unusual still to save your best friend’s life.
Kyle Brandt has had the same best friend – Don Elliott – since fourth grade, and he’s saved his life not once, but three times.
The two met in school and hit it off immediately, graduating together, going on to work at the same plastics factory and they still live near each other in their hometown of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin..
The first time Brandt saved Elliott’s life was during middle school, when he saved his friend from dying, and the second time was from a motorcycle crash in their 20s when Brandt packed Elliott’s head wound and called 911.
And, just two months ago, Brandt donated his kidney to Elliott.
Due to a genetic condition, Elliott’s own kidneys had been failing and doctors told him he would need a transplant in order to live.
Brandt said that when he learned his best friend was in failing health, there was no doubt in his mind he would get tested to see if he was a match.
Kyle Brandt, 68 of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, donated a kidney in October to his best friend Don Elliott, also 68, who needed a life-saving transplant. Pictured: Brandt (left) and Elliott (right) after the transplant at the Mayo Clinic in October holding a kidney pillow
Brandt and Elliott have been best friends since fourth grade, and Brandt has saved his best friend’s life three times. Pictured: Brandt (left) and Elliott by a fire pit, 1990
Elliott and Brandt, both 68, told DailyMail.com that they became fast friends when they met in elementary school.
‘We just got to be friends right away,’ Elliott said. ‘We were always playing together on the playground.’
The two hung out during school, after school and during the summers.
One of those summers, in 1963 when the two were in seventh grade, they accompanied Brandt’s father to the YMCA pool.
Brandt was playing on the diving board when, in the middle of the pool, he saw Elliott start to sink down.
The 12-year-old had suddenly gotten a cramp in his leg.
‘I don’t remember much of what happened,’ Elliott said. ‘But I don’t know that I would have [survived] without Kyle’s father.’
A few years later, when they entered high school, the pair began riding dirt bikes and motorcycles.
Elliott remembers his first was a Honda Sport 90 – an ultra-lightweight motorcycle. Brandt’s first was a Yamaha 180.
The best friends said they rode together all the time, finding new trails to explore and riding through gravel pits.
In February 1972, the men, both 20 years old at the time, had a drag race and then deciding to go riding in a gravel pit, along sand dunes.
‘We decided to take our helmets off because we thought: “It’s just sand,”‘ Brandt said.
‘So we rode up a hill and I went down first. I was at the bottom of the hill waiting for Don and, all of a sudden, I hear his bike shut off.’
Brandt called out Elliott’s name a couple of times, but there was no answer.
Brandt saved Elliott’s life the first time after Elliott almost drowned in a swimming pool and Kyle called out to his father. Pictured, left to right: Brandt’s wife Linda, Elliot’s wife Gina, Elliott and Brandt on Elliott’s wedding day in 1992 in which Brandt served as best man
The second time was in 1972 when Elliott accidentally crashed his motorcycle and Brandt packed his head wound and went to get help. Pictured: Elliott (left), friend Gil Sakora and Brandt in 2004
Worried, he parked his bike and rushed up the hill. Elliott was sprawled out on the ground, unconscious.
A piece of iron was sticking out of the sand and Elliott had hit it and cracked his head open.
Brandt grabbed a rag from his own bike and packed the wound as good as he could to stop the bleeding.
‘We were a bit ways from civilization so I rode to the nearest town and I went to three, four houses before someone answered so I could call 911,’ Brandt said.
The friends had to wait 45 minutes for the ambulance because the emergency workers had gone to the wrong gravel pit.
Elliott was in the hospital for three days. He had temporary amnesia and didn’t recognize his parents, his girlfriend at the time and even Brandt.
Eventually he regained his memory – and amazingly left the hospital without any complications.
Brandt, a grandfather-of-four, said he doesn’t consider himself a hero, just that ‘luckily it all worked out.’
In 1987, Elliott was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition that could lead to kidney failure. Pictured: Elliott (far left) and Brandt (far right) at a music festival, date unknown
Last year, Elliott was told that his kidneys were failing and that he need a transplant. Pictured: Brandt (second from left) and Elliott (far right) in 1988
For years, Elliott had no other health problems, but he knew from a young age that his family had a history of polycystic kidney disease (PKD).
PKD is a genetic disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys. These cysts can change the shape of the kidneys, reducing kidney function and potentially leading to kidney failure.
Elliott’s father had it, two of his five uncles had it and his grandmother had it.
He had no symptoms for years aside from a belly pooch that wouldn’t shrink – which he later learned was because his kidneys were growing.
Then, in 1987, when he was 36 years old, was in his exercise room doing push-ups when he felt sick.
‘The doctor said: “Your blood pressure is high” and then I told them how I had a risk for PKD,’ Elliott said.
‘He did an ultrasound and said: “[Your kidneys are] already pretty big.”‘
Written inside Don’s wife’s birthday card was: ‘Sorry, all we got you for your birthday is a kidney for Don’
Kyle Brandt, who donated a kidney to his best friend, Don Elliott
Last year, Elliott was told that his kidneys were failing and he was put on the waiting list and began facing the possibility of a five-year wait for a kidney from a deceased donor.
But Brandt said that once he learned his best friend needed a kidney transplant, he didn’t think twice about getting tested to see if he was a match.
‘Of course Don and his wife didn’t want me to get tested but I said: “I’m probably not a match anyway but let me see if I am.”‘
He visited the Mayo Clinic in late November 2018 and, within two weeks, he was declared a match.
Brandt and his wife, Linda, came up with the idea to surprise Elliott on his wife’s birthday. They invited the couple over for dinner and handed his wife, Gina, a card.
Written inside was: ‘Sorry, all we got you for your birthday is a kidney for Don.’
It took a minute for the news to sink in.
‘I broke down for about 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe it,’ Elliott said.
‘We all did,’ Brandt added.
The transplant was originally scheduled to be performed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in March 2019, but doctors postponed it after they were concerned by the results of Elliott’s stress test.
Further exams revealed he had a block in one of his arteries.
Brandt was tested and he was declared to be a match for Elliott. Pictured: Brandt (far left) and Elliott (far right) canoeing with friends by the river in 2006
The surgery was successfully performed in October and both men are back home recovering now. Pictured: Elliott (left) and Brandt (right) in 2001
Elliott said that doctors told him: ‘We don’t want you to go into cardiac arrest on the table. We’ve got to do a triple bypass surgery.’
A coronary artery bypass graft surgery is used to treat heart condition caused by artery blockages.
During the procedure, the surgeon attaches a blood vessel taken from another part of the body to the blocked artery and reroutes. Triple means that that three heart arteries were bypassed.
Elliott spent a few months recovering, during which he was put on dialysis. The transplant was rescheduled for October 23.
Dr Mikel Prieto, the transplant surgeon at the Mayo Clinic who performed surgery on Elliott, said his kidneys had grown so large they were the size of watermelons.
‘When we take them out, it’s a great relief to the patient,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘[Elliott is] a thin man and he had a big belly. It was all kidneys.’
Elliott said that when he went into surgery, he weighed 220 pounds. When he came out, he weighed 180 pounds.
He and Brandt said neither of them had particularly painful or difficult recoveries.
‘Just near the incision site, it was like doing 1,000 sit-ups and having a sore belly,’ Brandt said.
Both men are now back home in Chippewa Falls and say they feel great. They hope they can encourage more people to register to become organ donors.
Elliott said that for the people who eventually receive those organs, it’s an indescribable gift.
‘It’s one of the most special things…it was such a special thing that Kyle did,’ he said.
‘I just can’t say enough good things about Kyle. He’s been a gift from God.’