The first went to his wife, Jane, who has remained by his side, as John says, “in sickness and in health.” The second medal went to his son, Brian, who donated a kidney to his father. And, in a surprising finish, the third gold medal went to his transplant team at Mayo Clinic.
“I thank God every day that I came to Mayo,” says John.
John received his first transplant, a kidney and pancreas in 2001, after his kidneys failed from complications related to diabetes. In 2004, John participated in the U.S. Transplant Games and won a silver medal. He promptly gave it to his donor’s parents, who were present and cheering him from the stands.
Later that year, John’s body began to reject the donor kidney, and he became gravely ill. Because he was being seen at several medical institutions in the Midwest, concerned friends urged John to consolidate his care. He looked to Mayo Clinic for help.
“Mayo has an outstanding reputation,” he says. “And I like its team approach.”
John’s doctors determined that he needed a second transplant, and Brian volunteered to become his father’s donor. After a successful surgery, the Grellers rented an apartment in Rochester so the transplant team could monitor John. Six weeks later, the family returned home to Iowa.
The next summer, John competed in the transplant games again, where he won, and gave away, those three gold medals.
“Participating in the games is a way to say ‘thank you’ to your donor and their families,” says John. “In some cases, a lost life has meant a saved life for a transplant recipient, and the games reflect that. I am grateful for every day.”Of Heroes and Gold Medals,