Julienne Weighter was a medical pioneer. In 1963, she was among the earliest kidney transplant patients, and in 2000, she received a second donor kidney.
Weighter, of St. Louis Park, died of pancreatic cancer Feb. 5. She was 72.
She was born in Grand Forks, N.D., the last of Edmund and Evelyn Weighter's seven children. At 14, she was diagnosed with kidney disease, but doctors in North Dakota had limited options to treat her.
She needed a kidney transplant. But in 1963, there were only three U.S. cities where the surgery was done — Denver, Boston and Richmond, Va.
The plight of the "pretty high school cheerleader" attracted the attention of the entire state, including one of North Dakota's senators and its governor. With their help, a military flight for Julie, her mother and a nurse was arranged from the Air Force base in Grand Forks to Richmond, where the surgery was performed at the Medical College of Virginia.
Her father, Edmund, told the Bismarck Tribune that Julienne and the family had received 1,300 cards and letters "from every county in North Dakota."
Friend Steve Plumb helped Weighter record an oral history of her medical journey. Dr. David Hume, a pioneer in the procedure, was the surgeon, he said.
Hume was more than a pioneer. He was a member of the team that performed the first kidney transplant surgery and was honored in the name of the Hume-Lee Transplant Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. Hume died in a plane crash in 1973. The National Kidney Foundation, a national nonprofit based in New York, would later create the David M. Hume Award, given annually to a scientist-clinician in the field of kidney and urologic diseases.
By all accounts, Weighter was an excellent patient. "She was a plucky girl," Plumb said. "You didn't get a lot of feeling that she was too worried about it."
According to a story in the Rapid City Journal, after surgery, Weighter woke up and said, "Gee, everybody must have been praying for me back home — I'm still here."
At the time, fewer than 250 people had undergone a kidney transplant.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 22,817 kidney transplants in the United States in 2020 and 13,631 in 2000, when Weighter underwent a second transplant, this time receiving a kidney from her brother, Everett Weighter.
The procedure was still new in May 1963, and doctors wanted to monitor patients during recovery. Weighter lived in a dorm in Richmond with other patients until June 1964, attending high school at Richmond's Cathedral Central High School. Her mother stayed in a nearby apartment.
They eventually returned to Grand Forks, but more medical follow-ups were required, so they moved to Minneapolis, where Weighter finished high school at St. Anthony of Padua High School in 1967.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in social work, she began working as a principal financial worker for the Hennepin County Economic Assistance Department. She returned to the U to earn a degree in occupational therapy and worked in that field for the next 28 years at a variety of places, most recently at Sister Kenny United Hospital in St. Paul. She retired in 2012.
Weighter is survived by her husband, John Goggin; daughter Alycia; stepdaughter Jennifer; siblings Everett Weighter of Brookings, Ore., Nerus Weighter of Bellingham, Wash., and James Weighter of Everett, Wash.; and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis at an as-yet undetermined date.
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926