It is appropriately described as a selfless gift of life.
Union Township resident Pam Ullman departs for California this month to donate a kidney to her older sister; in a most ironic and provocative twist of fate, her upcoming life-saving surgery will happen 26 years after her husband of 8 years, Sheldon Rogge, donated a kidney to his own older brother.
In this most unusually inspirational set of circumstances, one spouse has already given the gift of life and one spouse has yet to give the gift of life.
The story began when Sheldon Rogge and Pam Ullman, who are both graphic designers, met through a mutual friend at a summer backyard party. After falling in love – he said it was love at first sight – they married and moved to Union Township in 2005.
In 1981, at the age of 19, Sheldon Rogge, who was born and raised across the river from Louisville in southern Indiana, donated a kidney to his older brother Steve Rogge. The surgery was successful and prolonged his brother’s life by an additional five years; he tragically died five years after the surgery at the age of 32.
"I was determined to do it," Sheldon said in his Union Township home Dec. 27. "To give someone the gift of life is a very special thing - and when it comes to family, there is really not much question about whether or not to go through something like this. Pam and I have talked at length about what she will go through and I fully support her decision. She is as determined as I was."
Just like her husband did all those many years ago, wife Pam Ullman, giving so much more than best wishes for a happy new year, will travel to San Francisco to donate one of her own kidneys to her sister.
Pam, 54, understandably nervous and apprehensive about the surgery, said that the procedure will give her sister a new lease on life, hopefully another 10 to 15 years.
"I am thrilled because her son Michael, who is my godson, just got accepted into Stanford," Pam said. "My sister Wendy really wants to be there for him and to see him bloom into a young man and succeed in college. I am honestly grateful that I may be able to help her to do this."
Pam's sister Wendy Ullman, 56, who lives in San Francisco and has lived with diabetes since the age of 8, has been on dialysis for the last 14 months and is in the last stages of kidney failure.
Pam, who was born and raised outside of Chicago, attained even more motivation to help Wendy because she lost one of her other sisters to juvenile diabetes when that sister was only 25 year old.
"I have made peace with my decision to donate a kidney to my sister Wendy," she said. "She is one of my dearest friends - and she is worth it," she said.
Sheldon, who has had a completely normal and "uneventful" medical history since his own surgery, said that he wishes that his wife did not have to go through the procedure, but he fully understands and supports her decision.
"Even though the operation is more refined and less invasive as when I had mine, I know the risks involved in all surgeries," he said. "This is still a major abdominal surgery."
Sheldon and Rogge both said that support from friends, family, and employers is "critical" and that they sincerely hope that everyone realizes how valuable life is - especially under special circumstances like these.