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Ski-town gift given in Vail

Matt Zalaznick
mzalaznick@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyGrand Junction resident Peter Howe enjoys a day of skiing Friday on Vail Mountain. Howe will undergo a kidney transplant on May 17.
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VAIL –Beth Murray was seeking a higher purpose. She found it one day last December after skiing on Vail Mountain, while having a beer in Vail Village with an acquaintance who was suffering kidney failure.

Peter Howe had lived in the Vail Valley for 20 years, averaging 100 days of skiing a season until moving to Grand Junction with his wife in 2001. By then he was suffering from arthritis and kidney disease.

Now 58, he worked for a while as a ski boot fitter and a ski tuner in Grand Junction before his illness prevented him from working. Because of his kidney disease, he can’t take all the medicine he needs to treat his arthritis.



Murray, an echocardiographer who lives in Eagle-Vail, met Howe and his wife about a year ago through a friend.

“I felt that I was called to do something on a greater scale – that calling came from God,” says Murray, 48, who attends Calvary Chapel in Edwards and has lived in the valley about three years. “I just felt I was called to do something of a greater magnitude. I didn’t know what it was.”



Howe’s kidney function was down to 17 percent and he had been on a waiting list for a kidney for more than two years. Two other friends had offered to donate their kidneys to him but weren’t a match. That’s when he and his wife had a beer with Murray and she made her offer.

“They didn’t believe me, we were having a beer,” Murray said. “That was where the seed was planted. I just knew at that moment that’s what I was called to do. It really truly was walking in faith.”

Howe, who started skiing in New England at age 6 and also raced motorcycles, first came to Vail in 1981 when some friends from the prep school he went to started an excavating business and, he says, “they needed someone to hold the dull end of a shovel.”



He worked at ski shops in the winter and operated heavy machinery on construction projects in the summer. He also worked for Christie Sports and plowed snowed for the town of Vail, all in the name of skiing as much as possible.

“I spent a lot of time crashed on the couch behind the rental counter at Christy Sports,” says Howe, who still skis occasionally and admits a strong fondness for Vail’s Back Bowls. “Half the people that were my good friends I met my first year when I moved here in 1981.”

He said the town was growing rapidly and jobs were plentiful back then. And there were lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures.

“If I wanted to do a sport, I could always find somebody to take me rafting in a minute, go target shooting in a minute, go mountain biking, go rock climbing, go hiking,” he says. “There was just always a way to find friends that were interested in doing things.”

“People are more focused now,” he adds. “The pool of locals seems to be more spread out and diluted – not that they’re not as nice and fun and outgoing.”

Like many who’ve chosen the ski town life, he says, he lived in 17 different places in the 20 years he spent in the valley.

Murray, who was once a competitive body builder and waited tables at a jazz club owned by Burt Reynolds in Jupiter, Fla., wanted to travel across the country to visit research hospitals to perfect her skills as a echocardiographer when she interviewed for a job in Vail.

A skier, hiker and mountain biker, she still fills in at the Vail Valley Medical Center but works full time at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in Summit County. She says she doesn’t regret her decision to donate her kidney even though it has damaged some of her relationships.

“It drew a really strong wedge between me and the gentleman that I was dating, who actually knows Peter,” she says, tearing up. “We’re no longer dating. That was really hard, that was the most up close and personal.

“People don’t understand, they really struggle,” she adds. “My family, who knows me really well, they get it, but people in general are just like, ‘Why?’ People are like, ‘Why would you jeopardize your own health to help somebody you barely know?'”

While undergoing tests to see if she was a suitable donor, she spoke to a former Vail Valley woman who had to move to the lower altitudes of Hawaii after donating her kidney and suffering complications. The woman told Murray she also donated her kidney because she felt called to by God.

The Hawaii donor gave her kidney to a woman who died of bone cancer four years later, but the transplant helped the woman survive four years of cancer treatment, the Hawaii donor said.

“She said, ‘I want you to know I would do it again in heartbeat,'” Murray said.

Both Murray and Howe have a good prognosis after surgery, which will take place at Denver’s Porter Adventist Hospital on May 17.

“She may have harder road to recovery than I do, because I’ve been without for so long it will be like a breath of fresh air,” Howe says.

New drugs are allowing people to keep kidneys longer, up to 10 years or longer. Howe said it “really put wind in my sails” when he met a woman who had kept a donated kidney for 21 years.

But most of all, Howe says, he is stilled floored by the gift Murray is giving him.

“When I first talked about her, I couldn’t even speak. I was just completely overwhelmed,” Howe says. “I get chills all over when I talk about it and think about it – it chokes me up, all the way.

“I was trying to talk about it to my sister-in-law and she hung up the phone because she thought the phone went dead, I just couldn’t speak.”

For Murray, she says she knows she is giving her kidney to a good man.

“People really love and respect this man,” she says. ” About two weeks ago I had a huge epiphany in this whole situation. A very good friend of Peter’s who I don’t know very well came up to me and he had tears in his eyes and he looked at me and said ‘I want to thank you for helping save my best friend’s life.'”


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