A ‘miraculous’ connection gave this Northbrook woman a new kidney and twin boys — but now, her organ is failing again

After Texas pastor Juan Uribe donated a kidney to Gail Fink of Northbrook, his wife served as a surrogate for her twin boys. Now Fink needs to find another donor so she can watch her 15-year-old boys continue to thrive.

SHARE A ‘miraculous’ connection gave this Northbrook woman a new kidney and twin boys — but now, her organ is failing again
Gail Fink, 63, who is looking for a new kidney donor after the first one she received from Juan Uribe, a minister in Texas, started to fail last year, prepares Shabbat dinner while her son Ethan Fink stands beside her in their home in Northbrook, Ill., Friday, May 12, 2023. Fink is the mother of twins, birthed by Uribe’s wife, who served as a surrogate. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Gail Fink, 63, who is looking for a new kidney donor after the first one she received from Juan Uribe, a minister in Texas, started to fail last year, prepares Shabbat dinner while her son Ethan Fink stands beside her in their home in Northbrook, Ill., Friday, May 12, 2023. Fink is the mother of twins, birthed by Uribe’s wife, who served as a surrogate.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Gail Fink knew this day would eventually come — a day she dreaded, but one the quiet voice in her head would never let her forget.

And the 63-year-old Northbrook woman also knew that when that day came, one of her first calls would be to a man in Florida, who had given her so much so many years ago.

“I was avoiding telling him. I didn’t want to disappoint him, having him feel bad in any way,” said Fink.

That call in late 2022 was to Juan Uribe, a Hispanic minister. They were strangers in 2004, when the pastor agreed to donate a kidney to Fink. Two years later, his wife, Leigh Anne, agreed to be a surrogate — to carry Fink’s twin boys because her condition left getting pregnant a risky endeavor.

merlin_36240797.jpg

This photo shows, from left, Michael Fink, Leigh Anne Uribe, Gail Fink and Juan Uribe at Evanston Hospital in October 2007, hours before Leigh Anne gave birth to the Fink’s sons Ethan and Elliott. Leigh Anne was a surrogate mother for the Finks, a Northbrook couple, two years after her husband, Juan, donated one of his kidneys to Gail. (Photo courtesy Michael and Gail Fink)

Fink was calling late last year to say the kidney Uribe had given her was failing — and that she needed another, urgently.

“It broke my heart,” Uribe, 59, said in an interview, echoing sentiments he expressed back in 2007, when he told the Chicago Sun-Times why he agreed to help Fink after coming across a 2004 newspaper story about kidney donation. At the time, the Uribes were living in Texas.

Fink is back on dialysis now — 3 12 hours per session, three times a week.

“I’m getting more and more used to it. Initially, I was so depressed, I was grieving,” Fink said. “Having regained my life for 18 years, and then I feel like I’m back there where I was.”

Her kidney began to fail late last year, after a bout of COVID-19, which left her in the hospital. The coronavirus damaged her already failing kidneys, doctors have told her.

Thanks to Uribe’s kidney, she’s led a full life with her husband Michael and twins Elliot and Ethan, now 15. She saw them play Little League, win the Pinewood Derby as Cub Scouts and become Bar Mitzvahs.

She used to swim, play pickleball, run up the stairs in the family home. Now, it’s an effort just to get up to make dinner, she said.

Gail Fink and husband Michael and their twins, Elliot Raymond (blonde, train shirt) and Ethan Benjamin (wing man shirt), in 2010.

Gail Fink and husband Michael and their twins, Elliot Raymond (blonde, train shirt) and Ethan Benjamin (wing man shirt), in 2010.

Rich Chapman/Sun-Times file photo

Kidneys from living donors last on average from 10 to 15 years, Fink has been told. So it’s no surprise that Fink’s is failing.

“Unfortunately, kidney transplants don’t last forever. Most of them succumb to ... chronic rejection because if the kidney is not yours, your immune system does slowly destroy it over time,” said Dr. John J. Friedewald, Fink’s kidney specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “People with a long life expectancy tend to outlive their transplant and need a second one. So there are a lot of people — roughly one in eight, one in seven, on the national waiting list — waiting for a second, third or even fourth kidney transplant.”

People can live for years on dialysis, but it’s far from an ideal life.

Gail Fink, Michael Fink and their twins Ethan and Elliot, in 2007 and 2023.
Rich Hein, Sun-Times Media  and  Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Fink has been working with MatchingDonors.com, the website that initially brought Uribe and Fink together all those years ago, but so far, she hasn’t found a match. On Tuesday, the Finks, in hopes for finding that match, are holding an “Awareness and Swab Drive” from 6 to 8 p.m., 6557 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincolnwood. To learn more about kidney donation or request a swab kit to see if you might be a match for someone, email RN25700@renewal.org.

Fink’s children are legally too young to donate a kidney, but both have told her they would do so without hesitation when they turn 18, she said. But Fink said she doesn’t want to put her children in that position.

Worried about their mother’s health, the twins still wear COVID masks at school, Fink said. She told them she doesn’t want them to stand out if other kids aren’t wearing them.

“Mom, you’d be surprised how many kids are still wearing masks,” they told her.

She said she’s particularly proud of how, under her husband’s supervision, her boys became men when she was in the hospital with COVID — learning how to cook, how to do the laundry.

“I would like to see them get married, maybe have some grandkids one day. That’s what I’m fighting for,” Fink said.

Gail Fink, 63, at home in Northbrook, Ill., Friday, May 12, 2023.

Gail Fink, 63, who is looking for a new kidney donor after the first one she received from Juan Uribe, a minister in Texas, started to fail last year, sits in her home in Northbrook, Ill., Friday, May 12, 2023. Fink is the mother of twins, birthed by Uribe’s wife, who served as a surrogate.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Uribes want that too. The Finks and Uribes have become lifelong friends — more than friends, really.

“We’re blood related,” said Gail Fink. “He’s a blood relative. There’s his kidney and Leigh Anne’s blood [that] ran through our kids.”

It was Leigh Anne Uribe, after all, who agreed to carry Gail Fink’s twins — actually eggs donated from a friend of the Finks and fertilized by Michael Fink’s sperm.

“It seemed like I was supposed to do this for them,” Leigh Anne Uribe said when the Sun-Times interviewed her back in 2007.

The Sun-Times coverage after the twins were born in 2007.

The Sun-Times coverage after the twins were born in 2007.

The couples talk regularly, have been on vacations together.

Juan Uribe, as a man of the cloth, understands more than most the fragility of the flesh. He had a “widow maker” heart attack in 2017, he said. Two years later, he was involved in a car crash that required seven surgeries. His mother died in 2020.

When Fink told him the sad news late last year about her kidney, he was shocked and even a bit angry, he said.

“It took a moment for me to take it in, digest it and then realize, we did it once, let’s take it again, move forward …,” he said.

So he’s been praying, he said, and posting about Fink’s search for help on his Facebook page.

He’d do anything to help the Finks — even giving her his other kidney, if he could.

“And still be able to see the light of day, I would. I love them,” he said.

Gail Fink wasn’t at all surprised to learn Uribe uttered those words.

“I’m sure he said that. Juan’s that type of person,” Fink said.

The Latest
It wasn’t just one bad night but what that bad night represented.
While Pritzker has emphatically expressed his support of Biden, he’s also not quashed the narrative that he has White House ambitions.
After years of having far too little at those crucial positions, the Bears now have more than enough.
“You have to accept you might be in another place the next week, that’s just something you have to eat.”
The decision comes after escalating pressure from Biden’s Democratic allies to step aside following the June 27 debate, in which the 81-year-old president trailed off, often gave nonsensical answers and failed to call out the former president’s many falsehoods.