July 16, 2004
JULY - 2011



The kidney shaped pin that
Lifelink presented to Paul for his
life saving gift to Ron





1965 - Ron and Paul with Les and Bill in background


Ron, on the left,  is where this story begins.  This journey of two brothers began with Ron and Paul Helfrich, born 1958 & 1959, respectively, in the same hospital at Whiteman AFB, MO and, being a part of a military family, traveling to Michigan, Philippines, Hawaii, and Florida.  Ron and Paul have two older brothers, Bill & Les, who were fortunate enough to see some of Germany before Ron and Paul were born.  They all shared much over the years; baseball, scouting, schools, friendships, being in each other's weddings, each having children, and feeling blessed many times over. 

With their dad being in the air force,  Bill joined the navy, Les the army, and Paul the marines.  The goal: have a poignant picture of all five in the different branches of service.  It was not meant to be.  When Ron went to join the coast guard in 1979, they discovered his kidneys were failing.  No one in the family matched as a donor, so Ron was on dialysis for five years.  Ron's family members were tested and were not good candidates to donate a kidney.  Les later heard of a program where he was willing to go see a doctor out west to see about taking part of one of his kidneys in the possible future study where they may be able to grow a kidney from a partial one, but that has not materialized.  In 1983, Ron was fortunate to receive a cadaver kidney, which lasted for 16 years.

In those years, Ron had many major crises, and was given up on by the doctors on at least three occasions, but he pulled through.  The doctors said over and over they had never had a patient to live through as much as he has.  After many episodes, his heart surgeon said that Ron could not survive a second kidney transplant.  But, after that, Ron survived a two week episode of dying.  The heart surgeon came in a few days later, held Ron's hand and said "anyone who can go through what you just did, and survive, should have a second shot at a kidney transplant, so I will recommend that you be put back on the transplant list."  Ron had so many antigens in his body from the first kidney transplant and other complications that he only had a 15% chance of getting a second cadaver transplant.

Throughout all of this, everyone said "keep the faith, there is always hope, and that there was always someone much worse off or who had no hope at all."  I kept a constantly updated running chronology of the major events in Ron's medical history in my purse at all times, showing that to date, he had gone through 52 major incidents since 1979.  To read a copy of Ron's medical record would overpower anyone who would take the time to read all of it.  As Ron's condition worsened, the doctors said that Ron was "wasting away" and with the rapidly deteriorating situation, it was time to "bring in the marines!" 


Enter Paul at this point. Paul had been tested in 1979 as a possible donor and passed all of the tests until they gave Ron a blood transfusion from Paul and Ron's body rejected it.  That eliminated Paul as a donor at that time.  Paul never wavered in his desire to donate.  Since then, an experimental program appeared on the horizon, which changed that issue.  LifeLink Transplant Center offered Ron and Paul a chance to participate in this experimental program. They both eagerly agreed to be only the eighth participants in this experimental program in this region.  Ron had six plasmapheresis treatments and six cytogams.  The hope was that in replacing plasma with albumin, that it would  lower Ron's antibodies, which would have attacked a second transplanted kidney, and thereby permit Ron's body to accept Paul's kidney. 

Paul and his wife, Ellen, and the entire family supported Paul in this quest, even though everyone had concerns for both Ron and Paul, especially with this being experimental.  Paul's wife, Ellen, had complete support from her parents; her dad,  Frank, came to sit through the day and night with us and Ellen's mom, Ann, stayed home to take care of Paul and Ellen's children.  They came all the way up from Sarasota to do this, so the family support is quite obvious.  

Ron's wife, Elise, called Paul the night before the surgery in an attempt to thank Paul for this precious gift.  Elise could not get through all that she was trying to say to Paul, and finally had to hang up because she was so choked up with emotion.  She said there was so much more that she wanted to say to Paul.

July 16, 2004, Ron and Paul entered Tampa General Hospital.  When Dr. Charles Sanders came into the room just before they were to go to surgery I said to Dr. Sanders, "this is a great day for the Helfrich Family," to which Dr. Sanders replied, "it is, indeed, a very great day for the Helfrich Family."  Then,  Paul donated a kidney to Ron. The kidney began to work immediately.  Paul did marvelously well, and it appeared that his jogging every other day for three miles prior to the surgery was contributory to such a rapid recovery for Paul.  However, Ron had been through so much that he was in a rather compromised condition to begin with.  We had started out early in the morning, and Paul was brought back to his room about 4:00 p.m. and Ron did not get back to his room until close to midnight.  Complications arose within two hours for Ron, and they had to call the surgeon back in at 2:00 a.m. STAT!  They could not get the bleeding to stop and he was losing blood faster than they could give him transfusions.  There were six-seven people in the room working with him, leaving us all drained watching everything, as they said "get the O.R. ready STAT!"  So, Ron was back in surgery, and then in ICU.  But, Ron is well on the road to a normal life as of this writing which is August 2, 2004. 

LifeLink presented Paul with a beautiful certificate and kidney shaped pin.  The LifeLink representative said that Paul was an exceptional individual for doing what he did, because most people have one reason or another for not stepping forward as he did.

The LifeLink Transplant Center Coordinator, Lois, said that the "Helfrich Guys" were the talk of LifeLink, with the staff walking each step along the way in this program with them.  To say that Paul did something so much above and beyond what most would do is such an understatement.  How incredibly proud we all are of him for giving such a selfless and priceless gift.  Paul has said over and over "it was never up for question, I could not NOT do it."  He says he does not feel that he did anything all that special.  However, Paul is now known to the entire family as  

Paul just can't be praised enough for what he has done. He and Ron have always been close, with both of them living in Tampa, one brother in Alaska and one in Virginia.  Paul has gone above and beyond with this gift of life to Ron.  Since Paul was a marine, it looks as if he has lived up to their motto of “never leave a buddy behind.”  Everyone should have a brother like Paul!

Ron, how brave you have been with what you have gone through all of these years. What courageous young men you both are.  You  must know how proud we are of both of you, and how much we love you.  We have so much to be thankful for, and especially for having two sons like these two guys. 

This background is a beautiful sunrise signifying a new day dawning for Ron, thanks to Paul, and what more can we say about the background music "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother?"  That speaks for itself.  Here are some pictures of Ron and Paul below. 

Lots of love to both of you,

Mom & Dad

The entire Helfrich family wishes to express our gratitude to LifeLink Transplant Center for the grant that made this possible and all of the staff's support.  It meant so much to all of us.  The doctors, surgeons, nursing staff - all were appreciated so much during this period.  As Paul said, they do some miraculous things at TGH.  This new program is, hopefully, a tremendous stride forward for many future patients like Ron.  Most importantly, one must always try to maintain that there is hope.  Ron has proven that is true.

Back Row - Bill, Chuck, Les
Front Row - Ron, Jackie, Paul

July 16, 2004


ICU - Ron and Elise 

Ron in ICU & Paul (standing). 
This was the first day after surgery and their first visit

Frank, (Ellen's dad), Jackie/Chuck,
(Ron & Paul's parents)  Ron, Ellen/Paul

LifeLink Coordinator presenting a certificate (shown below and pin shown at top of page) to Paul for his priceless gift.

Paul on the left and Ron on the right

The board in Paul's room where the family members signed up to show their thanks and gratitude for what Paul had done for Ron.  This will never be forgotten by anyone in the entire family.

Ron headed home, at long last.

Ron home with son, Michael.





1963 - Ron and Paul

1964-Paul and Ron


1965 - Ron and Paul - Bill in background



1966 - Paul and Ron


1971-Paul on left-Ron on right

1979 - Ron on the left and Paul on the right. 
Notice - Each has a pistol pointed at the other.

Ron enjoying his boat


1983 - Ron and Paul (as bachelors)

1983 - Paul and Ron (as bachelors)

1984 - Paul and Ron on a cruise

1991 - Picture taken at Paul and Ellen's wedding,
Ron, as best man, trying to straighten out
"little brother" in time for the wedding,
with dad looking on. 

1994 - Ron on the left and
Paul on the right lighting the candles for our
Reunion Dinner. 


He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother 
The road is long, with many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where, who knows where
But I'm strong, strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy - he's my brother

So on we go, his welfare is my concern
No burden is he to bare, we'll get there
For I know he would not encumber me

He ain't heavy - he's my brother

If I'm laden at all, I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart isn't filled with gladness 
of love for one another

It's a long long road from which there is no return
While we're on our way to there, why not share
And the load, it doesn't weigh me down at all

He ain't heavy - he's my brother

He ain't heavy - he's my brother, he's my brother, 
he's my brother




Ron (left) and Paul (right) with a "thank you cake" for 
LifeLink Transplant Center's Staff

Ron and Paul - August 4, 2004

August 2004 LifeLink Publication Headline

Ron and Paul Helfrich in the above publication

2006 LifeLink Calendar

2006 - Paul's name is on this beautiful tree below!!

Paul is 9th from the bottom on the right side

A closer look at the list - Paul 9th from the bottom on the right


July 16, 2005
Ron and Paul celebrating the
1st anniversary of the kidney transplant

July 16, 2005
Ellen and Elise celebrating the
1st anniversary of the kidney  transplant


July 2006
Paul and Ron celebrating the
2nd anniversary of the kidney transplant

September 2006
Paul and Ron celebrating
Ron's 48th birthday

Ron and Paul celebrating
the 3rd anniversary of
the kidney transplant
July 2007

July 2008 - Paul and Ron celebrating the 4th anniversary of the kidney transplant - July 2008
July 2009 - Paul and Ron Celebrating the  5th anniversary of the kidney transplant - July 2009
Elise and Ellen on the right -  "Elise and Ellen get flowers for putting up with Ron & Paul
Each one of them kept saying throughout the picture taking:
"I'm #1 favorite daughter-in-law, doncha know?"

  Ron, Paul, Ellen, Elise Celebrating the
6th  anniversary of
the kidney transplant

July - 2010


JULY 2011

Celebrating the
7th anniversary

of the kidney transplant
Ellen, Paul, Ron and Elise
To the right and left - Daniel and Julia
Ron reading the MUSICAL card to Paul


 Ron and Paul reading a card that Jim created on his computer. 
See how they are laughing?
Well, we must share Jim's ingenuity with all of you.
So, we are showing the card below. 
Everyone thought it was just priceless!!! 
Also in the picture are Ellen, Michael and Chuck is in the background




Paul and his family
Ellen - Julia - Daniel

Chuck and Jackie
Bill, Les, Ron and Paul
Whiteman AFB, MO

Ron and his family
Elise - Lauren - Michael