Pay It Forward - Gift of Life

9/22/2023 9:00:00 AM

Pay It Forward

“It’s really nice to be able to help people who are going through a situation that is very similar to what I went through and staying in the same place to help each other heal and get home.”

– Josh Keller, Bell Bank Employee

Bell Employees

Josh Keller and Lon Keller Fargo, N.D.


Gift of Life Transplant House

The Need

Born a month early, Josh Keller had his first heart surgery when he was just 11 days old. A series of surgeries when he was still a toddler corrected Josh’s heart problems, and he grew up a normal kid – although he had to be careful not to do anything that might put too much stress on his heart. Throughout childhood and into adulthood, Josh regularly saw doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. – until finally, as his dad puts it, all the medicines and procedures “just weren’t going to help his heart anymore.” Doctors said the time had come for a transplant.

Not knowing if Josh would get a new heart, the family waited – assured by Bell Bank, where Lon and Josh both work, that Josh could be flown on a private plane to Mayo if needed. Their wait stretched to three years.

When he finally got word from Josh that the transplant call had come, Lon recalls letting out the loudest shout of his life: “Josh is getting a heart!”

The Impact

For both Josh and Lon, the decision to pay it forward to Gift of Life Transplant House was an obvious one. Gift of Life provides a home away from home for transplant patients and their families. Josh stayed at Gift of Life Transplant House with his wife after leaving the hospital. His parents and brother also traveled there frequently.

“It’s not free, but the cost is very reasonable,” Lon explains. We were there for months. Put that against a normal hotel bill … We knew places like that existed, but you don’t really understand it until you’re one of the people that have to be there.”

During one of Josh’s follow-up visits in Rochester, he and his dad surprised Mary Wilder, director of Gift of Life Transplant House, with a Pay It Forward check that – with the help of a number of Bell co-workers – had ballooned to more than $18,000. Those funds will go toward operational costs, Mary said, and also to help families who can’t afford lodging costs, even at the transplant house.

Meanwhile, Josh’s journey continues. He went on dialysis when his kidneys failed sometime after the heart transplant, and Josh is now awaiting a kidney transplant down the road. It hasn’t been easy, he acknowledges.

“I just want to stay around, especially for my wife, my family,” he says. “I don’t want to leave yet.” It’s all in character, according to his dad. Throughout Josh’s entire life, he’s been “such a fighter,” says Lon. “He’s the toughest man I’ve ever known.”

Through the Pay It Forward program, Bell gives employees money each year to donate to people in need and causes they care about.

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