Gary Albertson is an avid landscape photographer who’s traveled far and wide to capture nature’s most magical moments.
During a trip to the Cook Islands in the spring of 1995, Gary knew something wasn’t right with his body. He noticed his feet were abnormally swollen.
After arriving home on a Sunday, and based on the advice from a nursing friend of his, Gary went to the hospital immediately.
By the following Tuesday, it was evident Gary made the right decision.
“They checked me and my kidneys were at zero value, zero function. I had complete kidney failure. The doctor told me if I had waited any longer to do blood work, I would not have lived until Tuesday.” Gary said.
He went on dialysis and, six months later, was cleared as a candidate for a kidney transplant due in part to good health and having two sisters who were willing to donate.
Initially, it was Gary’s sister, Carol, who volunteered to be the donor, but a bad back prevented her from doing so.
Without hesitation, his oldest sister, Judy, stepped up to the plate.
“Judy, she immediately stood up and said ‘take mine!’ There was no thought, no hesitancy on her part,” Gary recalled. “I could tell immediately they [Carol and Judy] were determined to save their little brother’s life.”
Judy being the kidney donor was simply meant to be.
“We didn’t know what kind of a match it would be at the time,” said Gary. “It was just, ‘take mine!’ But after evaluating Judy’s blood type, we learned she was a perfect match.”
When the doctors at OHSU performed exploratory blood work on Gary, a distinct marker was found in his blood – the same marker his sister had in hers.
Gary added, “That marker…the doctor said it’s really rare your sister would have the marker too.”
Reflecting back to his childhood connection with Judy, Gary says, “Our spirits were exactly the same. Growing up all of our life, we’ve always been really good buddies. We always had a bond.”
Their bond was lifesaving.
“It was one of the rarest perfect matches they had seen,” Gary says. “The doctor, while making his rounds, even tapped me on the knee and said, ‘Your kidney loves you.’ It was really an ideal match.”
Gary Albertson received a new lease on life on May 16, 1996.
On May 18th, two days after the successful surgery, Gary wheeled down to Judy’s hospital room as she was still in the ICU.
It was her birthday, yet she was the one who had provided him with the ultimate gift.
Unable to buy a present, Gary wrote a poem for his sister, expressing his gratitude for the sacrifice she made to keep him alive.
Knowing he had a strong support system and a healthy kidney, Gary’s outlook on life changed significantly. Gone were thoughts filled with doubt, worry, and fear, replaced instead with optimism, hope, and joy.
“I felt happier. I felt content,” he added.
Gary decided it was time to finally live in the moment.
“Instead of traveling the world and photographing in the same places all the other famous photographers do I told myself, ‘Gary, follow the now. Life is so good and precious. Follow your love.’ So, I moved to Central Oregon to devote myself to photographing the Metolius River Valley,” he said.
25 years later, and at 72 years of age, Gary is still going strong.
“My numbers [bloodwork] today are just as good or better than they were 25 years ago,” he added.
Despite being diagnosed with Pigment Dispersion Glaucoma in 1996, which has led to his eyesight deteriorating over time, Gary doesn’t take anything for granted, stays positive, and, in fact, turned his poor eyesight into a healthier lifestyle.
Gary says, “I can’t drive a car, so now I’m forced to walk a lot, hike a lot. I have a four-wheel quad-cycle that I roll all over this valley with. So, I’m in unbelievably good shape!”