By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Family is life: A saying the Swansons are living proof of.

Four of the six Swanson kids inherited a genetic kidney disorder – a disease that took their mother and brother. But, thanks to other family members, the siblings have a new outlook on life.

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The Swanson family has always been tight knit.

“I’ve known him my whole life, we’re probably best friends,” Mike Weiss said.

So when Weiss learned his cousin Tom Swanson was on dialysis and in need of a kidney, he offered one of his.

“To me it was just something that just had to be done,” Weiss said.

The family has watched the progression of the hereditary kidney disease, losing their mother and brother, and seeing the decline of the siblings’ health.

“We kind of lost the humor almost in the family, you know, because the future was so bleak,” Dave Swanson said.

Then one by one, three living donors — all relatives — raised their hands to help. Doctors performed the three kidney transplants at Mayo Clinic in under three years.

Brother Dave donated a kidney to sister Mary. Sister Kate received her kidney from cousin Stephanie Miller last November.

“You can’t even grasp it. It was like a switch was flipped,” Kate Swanson said. “I, all of a sudden, I had a future. I didn’t have a future before that.”

The gestures were life-altering, and life-saving.

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(credit: CBS)

“You just make decisions based on the knowledge that your life is so long. But it’s a huge mental shift in your head,” Mary Swanson said.

And it’s emotional.

“I’m just thinking what my life would be like if it wasn’t for Mike. I’d be down and out, there’d be just no question about it,” Tom Swanson said.

“I guess what’s life-altering for me is to get to see him do a lot of things that he wants to do. He has 10 grandchildren, number 11’s on the way,” Mike Weiss said.

The siblings are here because of their donors’ gifts.

“If I had a third one, I’d say put me on the match list, let’s go again,” Stephanie Miller said.

“Just a small sacrifice on our part has made such a big difference on their part,” Dave Swanson said.

The family is now watching the next generation, as the disease was passed down to some of their kids.

As Donate Life Month comes to a close, they hope others will consider being a living donor. Mayo Clinic has information on being a donor.

The Swansons’ transplants were unique. Dr. Mikel Prieto at Mayo Clinic performed all of them. He explains the special way he removed their diseased kidneys and transplanted the new kidney, and why it was necessary.

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Jennifer Mayerle