Katherine Kersten: When bad news hit a great guy, she knew a card just wouldn't do

Bill Palmquist is that gem of a guy every workplace should have. He does dozens of small things for dozens of people, all the while giving you the feeling that it's a joy to do so.

Bill Palmquist is that gem of a guy every workplace should have. He does dozens of small things for dozens of people, all the while giving you the feeling that it's a joy to do so.

Every day Palmquist's cart makes the rounds at Medtronic's offices in Fridley and other northern suburbs, dispensing the basics that make an office hum: staples, pens, paper. But Palmquist, who works for Spee-Dee Delivery Service, dispenses something more.

"You can hear him coming down the hall, greeting everyone, spreading good cheer and sunshine," says Sue Dzieweczynski of Circle Pines, an executive assistant for Medtronic's leadership team. "He'd do anything for you."

Palmquist often dropped by Dzieweczynski's desk to chat. "He 'd call me 'Polish One' " -- a joking reference to her hard-to-pronounce last name -- "and I'd call him 'Spee-Dee Boy,'" she says.

But in May, a shadow passed over Palmquist's "cheer and sunshine." His Medtronic fan club soon learned why.

Palmquist's wife, Joy, had taken their then-8-year-old son, Aaron, to a clinic near their home in St. Cloud with what seemed like typical flu symptoms. Within hours, Aaron was airlifted to the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview. He had kidney failure.

"They told us he would have had six to 12 hours to live if we hadn't brought him in," recalls Palmquist. The boy needed a kidney transplant.

Palmquist and his family were tested for a match, but no one qualified.

They turned in uncertain fear to face some daunting options.

If a living donor couldn't be found, Aaron's name would be added to the national donor waiting list. He may have to wait five or six years for a kidney. Until then, he would need dialysis in Minneapolis, three times a week, four hours a session.

Pediatric patients do not grow well on dialysis, but resume normal growth after a successful transplant, says Cathy Garvey, transplant coordinator at University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview.

The longer a patient must wait for a transplant, the less likely success may be, she adds.

At Medtronic, Tammy Ocel -- one of Palmquist's hundreds of friends -- decided she needed to consider more than flowers and a card. Ocel e-mailed 15 or 20 colleagues about the search for a donor.

The e-mail raced from computer to computer. Soon hundreds, even thousands, of Medtronic employees knew.

"When I got it, I hollered over to another 'admin' -- is that our Spee-Dee Boy?" Dzieweczynski recalls. "I didn't even know Bill's name."

Donations poured in: $3,000 worth, including motel vouchers, gas cards and even an iPod for Aaron. He got toys and games to play with during dialysis, and every kind of fruit snack -- one of the few things he could still eat.

But the greatest gift, a new kidney, remained elusive.

A few Medtronic employees offered to be tested for a match. One was Dzieweczynski. She had never met Aaron. "But my first instinct when I heard was, 'I want to help if I can.'"

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