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Superior family rides the rails to celebrate son’s successful kidney transplant

Jackson Beattie, 3, and his cousin Brett Beattie, 22, enjoy themselves at Lake Louise in Canada during their journey aboard the Rocky Mountaineer’s Life Changing Train for Heroes last week. The annual event, according to the Rocky Mountaineer website, “recognizes heroes and their families, and invites them to travel onboard the train for an unforgettable life-changing experience.” (Photo from the Rocky Mountaineer)1 / 5
Jackson (clockwise from upper left), Dave, Sara and Brooklyn Beattie of Superior participated in the 2012 kidney walk at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Brooklyn was the top fundraiser, bringing in more than $4,000. (2012 file / News Tribune)2 / 5
Dave Beattie (right), Jackson Beattie (center) and a friend ride the Rocky Mountaineer during their mid-September journey from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Lake Louise in Alberta. (Submitted by Terri Kaminski)3 / 5
Jackson Beattie, 3, and his cousin Brett Beattie, 22, aboard the Rocky Mountaineer during their rail journey last week. (Photo by the Rocky Mountaineer)4 / 5
Three-year-old Jackson Beattie and his family, including his kidney-donor cousin Brett Beattie, hopped aboard the Rocky Mountaineer for a two-day railroad journey in Canada for the rail company's Life Changing Train for Heroes. News Tribune Graphic 5 / 5

Two years and a couple of months after receiving a kidney transplant from his big cousin, 3-year-old Jackson Beattie shows no signs of the birth defect that threatened his life.

Jackson is “growing and learning and smart and energetic — he’s nonstop,” said his father, Dave Beattie. “Unless you lifted up his shirt and looked at his scars, you would never know.”

The Beattie family — Dave, wife Sara, Jackson and big sister Brooklyn, 10 — live in Superior. Cousin Brett Beattie, the donor, is 22 and lives in the Twin Cities where he works for a civil engineering firm.

But when we talked with them last week, all five Beatties plus Dave’s parents and Brett’s girlfriend were at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. They had just completed a two-day railroad journey aboard the Rocky Mountaineer for the excursion rail company’s Life Changing Train for Heroes.

The annual event, according to the Rocky Mountaineer website, “recognizes heroes and their families, and invites them to travel onboard the train for an unforgettable life-changing experience.”

In 2013, military veterans and wounded soldiers were the honored heroes. This year, it was organ donors and recipients.

The snowboarder

Among 13 contingents invited on the Heroes Train, only one other was from the United States. That was the group with Chris Klug, of Aspen, Colo., who won a bronze medal in snowboarding at the 2002 Winter Olympics within 18 months after being the recipient of a liver transplant.

Klug, who established a foundation to promote organ and tissue donations, was asked by the Rocky Mountaineer to suggest some U.S. candidates for the Heroes Train, Brett Beattie explained. He listed the Beatties among his nominees, and they were chosen.

On a section of the Chris Klug Foundation’s website, a photo of Brett and Jackson Beattie — each wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey — is the second posted after Klug’s own.

The train departed Vancouver last week for Kamloops, British Columbia. The second leg took them to Lake Louise, in Banff National Park.

“We weaved our way near the mountain bottoms, along rivers,” Brett Beattie said. “It’s just incredible to see. … The water is crystal clear and blue. It’s beyond what words can describe.”

‘Like families now’

By the end of the trip last Thursday afternoon, Jackson was tired and not available to talk, his dad said. But Brooklyn, a fifth-grader at Superior’s Bryant Elementary School, was happy to share her perspective.

The entire trip was “amazing,” she said. “But to top it off, when we got to Lake Louise, the view — it’s just amazing — the glaciers, the mountains and then the lake is so blue. It’s really pretty.”

Since first learning of her brother’s need for a kidney, Brooklyn has become a one-girl force when it comes to raising awareness and money for organ donations. The team of walkers she formed for various Kidney Foundation walks has raised $75,000 in four years. At an event in Superior last year, she encouraged 50 people to become organ donors, Dave Beattie said.

One of the goals of the Rocky Mountaineer Heroes Train was to get 5,000 people signed up for organ donations, he said.

As thrilling as the scenery was, it was also exciting to meet other families involved as donors or recipients of transplanted organs, Dave Beattie said. In at least a couple of cases, the donor and recipient met each other for the first time on the train.

“It was very neat to see,” he said. “They’re just like families now. After the first two hours, they’re giggling and laughing and enjoying each other.”

Jackson wasn’t the only preschooler on board, his dad said. A 3-year-old girl who had received a donated heart was there, along with young children traveling with other families.

‘Enjoy the little things’

Jackson, who will turn 4 on Oct. 30, probably will need a transplant again someday. The lifespan of a donated kidney typically is anywhere from five to 30 years, Dave Beattie said. But until lab tests show it’s needed, he’s good to go.

Brett Beattie, who graduated from Iowa State University in May, said he learned the winter before the transplant that Jackson would need a new kidney soon. Like everyone else in the family, he had his blood tested to see if he was eligible to donate.

He learned in May 2012 that he would be the donor. “I was extremely happy knowing that he had found a donor … not only that it was me, but that it was somebody,” he said.

Since going through a short recovery period, Brett Beattie has had no ill effects, he said. But his perspective has changed.

“You realize more and more that anything can happen and being healthy helps with a lot of those things,” he said. “I enjoy each day a lot more and enjoy the little things more and take a lot less for granted.”

He and Jackson already have a close relationship that he expects to deepen over the years, Brett Beattie said.

Jackson already understands how special that bond is, Dave Beattie said. “He doesn’t know the ins and outs, but he knows Brett saved his life.”

About organ donations

  • In the United States, more than 123,000 people are awaiting transplant organs. Nearly 90 percent are waiting for a kidney.
  • About half of all kidney transplants come from living donors.
  • Every 10 minutes another name is added to the National Transplant Waiting List.
  • An average of 18 people die each day awaiting an organ that does not become available in time to save them.
  • In Minnesota and Wisconsin, registering as an organ donor is as simple as checking a box on your driver’s license.
  • You also can register at donatelife.com. Even if you don’t register, you can inform family members of your wishes.

Sources: The National Kidney Foundation, Chris Klug Foundation, Dave Beattie