Jim Gorbunow isn’t a master, or even amateur, snow sculptor, but the roughly 5-foot-tall frozen kidney in the front of his Cottage Grove home suggests otherwise.
Gorbunow, who is in need of a life-saving kidney transplant, recently took a unique approach to soliciting organ donations by crafting what is now a frozen, nearly anatomically correct kidney made of snow.
About a week ago, he and his brother, Jason, spent four hours snow blowing, packing, sculpting and freezing sticky snow into the shape of the organ outside his home, located at 7875 Hillside Trail.
“It was my wife Jennie’s idea,” he explained Tuesday. “She saw a picture of a smaller, probably 2-foot-tall snow kidney online and thought that we should do something like this. So, of course, I knew I wanted to make it bigger.”
Just before the recent cold snap hit, Gorbunow put the finishing touches on the snow kidney, including a smiley face, and, with black model car paint, inscribed the words “Someone here needs a kidney” on the base of the sculpture.
A Type I diabetic for nearly his entire life, Gorbunow became increasingly ill and found he was in the early stages of renal failure just weeks before his 30th birthday. In December 2000 he received his first kidney transplant from a close friend.
However, with the kidney now nearing its 14th year, it is wearing out and is functioning at 25 percent.
“There are good days where I feel great and then there are bad days where my energy just drains,” he explained. “I feel OK now, but if my kidney functions below 20 percent, that’s when I will go active.”
Gorbunow is listed as inactive, or on hold, on the national organ transplant list but expects to become active if his health continues to decline, which is when he will undergo dialysis while he waits for either a living or deceased donor.
“We take it one day at a time,” Gorbunow said. “I’ve become really good at waiting. But if I wait and it comes along in the next few years, that just means I wasn’t ready for it right now. I’m confident it will happen when I’m ready.”
Time is precious to Gorbunow and his wife, he said, and is spent doing what he loves, which as of recently means tending to his snow kidney.
“I spray painted it pink a couple of times but it’s become so frozen that it doesn’t stick,” he said. “With the cold weather, this is solid as a tree stump. I think I’ll have this chunk of ice in my front lawn until June.”
Not one to shy away from his situation, Gorbunow installed a sign next to the snow kidney that reads “Kidney Wanted” and contact information for those either interested in being a donor or would like more information about organ donation. This open-door policy, he said, helps raise awareness to the importance of donating life.
“My motto has always been that there is no greater gift than the gift of life,” he said. “I’ve been able to live the last 13 years because of someones selfless donation. And, no matter what, I’ll continue to live life to the fullest.”
For more information, email Gorbunow at Kidney4Jim@gmail.com.
Early Wednesday morning, Gorbunow told the Bulletin that three living donors have come forward offering to donate a kidney.
"It's like I've been punched in the stomach, but in a good way," he laughed. "I'm beyond humbled."
Living donors from Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana have expressed interest in seeing if they would be eligible donors. A neighbor has also expressed interest in donating his kidney.
Gorbonow said the possible donors would have to go through several tests to make sure both their blood type and tissue types match before proceeding. He can accept both A or O blood types either negative or positive.
Following the news of several living donors coming forward, the Gorbunow's were also invited to appear on the daytime talk show The Doctors, which airs on CBS. They fly to Los Angeles for taping on Wednesday, Gorbunow wrote on his transplant Facebook page.
Astonished by how far-reaching his story has become, Gorbunow said social media has given his story more exposure than he thought possible.
"I'm lost for words for what I'm feeling," Gorbunow said. "I'm touched by how many people want to help."