News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Photographer celebrates milestone

Camp Sherman resident Gary Albertson is celebrating a big milestone this week. Twenty-five years ago, he received a kidney transplant from his older sister, Judy Zellers, at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland.

The average lifespan for a transplanted kidney is 10-12 years and Albertson has defied that timeline. He credits all the similarities he shares with Judy for the near-perfect match. He said in a family of dark-haired, dark-eyed siblings and parents, he and Judy shared the only blond hair and hazel eyes. Their temperament and mannerisms are similar.

“We are closely matched in our inner core,” Albertson said. “We are both kind, gentle people who act and talk similarly.”

When Albertson’s family learned of his kidney failure, both of his older sisters, Judy and Carol, without being asked, volunteered to donate a kidney. Judy proved to be an almost perfect match. Albertson was the youngest of four children and admits he has always been a loner, off on his own adventures, not always letting his family know where his adventures were taking him.

Judy explained, “In our family, we’ve always all gone our own way with different lifestyles, but we are all there for each other in an emergency or time of need. Gary was the only one that we didn’t always know what he was up to.”

Her response when she heard he needed a kidney transplant? “He was my brother. To me, it was just something that you do. I didn’t even think about what would happen after the surgery.”

Albertson and his sister both said that through the donation process they have become each other’s hero — Judy for her selfless act of donating a kidney and Albertson for providing Judy with her reason for being on this earth.

“If I ever wonder why I am here, I do have a reason,” she said. “If it is just that one thing, donating a kidney, it has been well worth it.”

The odyssey began in the fall of 1995 when Albertson returned from three weeks on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands of the South Pacific. While on his trip, he hadn’t been feeling at the top of his game, and when he deplaned in Portland, his feet were extremely swollen. At the urging of a friend, he sought medical attention the next day and was told he was in complete kidney failure. Had he waited one more day, he might not have made it.

Dialysis was ordered immediately, and it took six months for all the testing and evaluation to be completed, clearing the way for Judy’s donation of her kidney. Albertson was 47 years old and Judy celebrated her 50th birthday four days after surgery, while still at OHSU. For her birthday, Albertson penned these words which she has framed, hanging on her wall to this day:

“Once upon a time in a land of seemingly distant, unmatched bloods

Existed for ages

A hidden story of perfect matching affection

Masked by sincerest pride

But only exposed to perfect sacrifice.”

Following the transplant, Dr. John Barry, director of renal transplant at OHSU, came in to tell Albertson, “Your kidney loves you.” It has continued to love him for 25 years. Every six months, Albertson’s nephrologist at Summit Health, Dr. Russell Messine, does blood tests that show the kidney is functioning as well as it did when it was implanted. Albertson has been on the same small dose of antirejection medication for all 25 years.

Albertson’s hope is that by sharing his story, more people will be encouraged to become “heroes” by becoming living donors so more kidney patients can come off dialysis and enjoy a greatly improved quality of life. Kidney donations can also be made at the time of death but those from living donors seems to provide better results. Nature saw fit to equip us with two kidneys, but Judy is living proof that a totally normal life is possible with only one.

Having survived kidney failure, Albertson moved to Camp Sherman in 1999 with renewed passion to hone his fine-art landscape photographic skills while living where he felt most at home. He purchased the Sisters Gallery and Frame Shop from the Rosettis after working for them and learning the framing business. It proved to be the perfect venue for his stunning photography.

In 2010, life threw Albertson another curve ball when he lost most of his eyesight to a rare genetic disorder called pigment dispersion glaucoma, made worse when shingles got into his better left eye. But that’s a story for another day.

Albertson’s photography is available on his Facebook page and at


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