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May 2010 Issue

Travis Durbin
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Once-Troubled Teen Donates Kidney to Mentor

By Katy Cosse
Published May 2010

When describing his old self, Travis Durbin will just say that he wasn’t one of the good guys.

Growing up, the North College Hill teenager dropped out of school and became involved in violent crowds. He says he was deceitful and had trouble with the law.

But getting prepped for surgery at UC Health University Hospital on the morning of April 15, he was about to become one of the good guys.

Durbin was donating a kidney to his new friend and mentor Volker Rieser, PhD.

Though this time last year Rieser and Durbin had never met, they’ve now formed an unusual friendship around Travis’ decision.

Durbin learned about Rieser last summer after his stepfather, Rick Sayler, mentioned him at dinner.

Rieser, one of Sayler’s clients in his financial advisory business, had requested that a notice be put in the next client newsletter about organ donation.

After a struggle with diabetes, a car accident that left with him with a bruised kidney among other serious injuries and then two years on dialysis, Rieser was in desperate need of a donor.

Unprompted, Durbin volunteered to be tested—and he was a perfect match.

"He’s a miracle,” says Rieser. "It’s a miracle. It’s like hitting the jackpot.”

Durbin started going to Rieser’s home to help with yard work and repairs.

Rieser, a retired professor and German teacher, began mentoring him for the General Education Degree. Over several months, they became friends.

"My relationship with Travis is a win-win situation,” says Rieser.

"I’ve influenced him and I’ve noticed him change. He’s a nice person with a big heart, but he was a fighter. Now he’s getting back his self esteem, his self respect.”

The pair even survived a frightening setback when doctors had to remove a cancerous tumor from Rieser’s kidney. For some time, they weren’t sure whether he would be eligible for the transplant.

"I remember on Feb. 22, my birthday, I got a phone call from the transplant coordinator to schedule my transplant,” says Rieser.

"It was the greatest birthday present I’ve ever received.”

To learn more about organ donation, including how to become a donor, visit or call LifeCenter Organ Donor Network at (513) 558-5555.

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