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25 more Christmases for siblings Betty and Mark, thanks to organ donation

Betty Cunin and her older brother Mark celebrated their 25th kidney transplant anniversary earlier this year on Nov 20, 2021. Betty donated one of her kidneys to Mark in 1996 and says that if she could, she would do it again without hesitation.
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​When Mark was just six years old, one of his kidneys was removed and he lived with one kidney until his mid-twenties, when his second kidney began to fail. Betty's family quickly pulled together to get tested and in the end, Betty was proud to be the one to gift her brother with this incredible life-saving donation.

At the time of transplant, Betty was a 31-year old landscaper and Mark was just one year older on dialysis and finishing his electrical engineering technologist diploma at Camosun College on Vancouver Island.

Betty says her family is known to turn everything into a party, so naturally their surgery date on Nov 20, 1996 was joyous. "Our rooms at Vancouver General Hospital were being decorated as I was wheeled out into surgery," she says.

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               (Betty, Mark and family one day post-transplant surgery)

"The health-care team we had was brilliant. From the beginning communications to the surgery – everybody was so considerate and caring. We all felt like we were very well informed and taken care of from BC Transplant, the surgical teams and the nurses in the unit. There was nothing that we missed or felt we needed to be assured of," Betty recalls.

Betty bounced back from surgery almost immediately and was shoveling snow that Christmas.

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                         (Betty and Mark on Christmas Day, 1996) 

Mark's new kidney took a few days to "wake up" but as soon as it did, he went back to normal life swiftly — he finished his diploma the following spring.

Today, Mark lives each day helping people. Betty calls him a "gentle giant".

"Mark is a patient transfer medic and even helps some patients get to and from dialysis, lifting them in and out of the vehicle," explains Betty. "He has strong empathy and passion for people and it comes from his lived experience of being sick his whole childhood. He's perfect for this role because he's very calm in crisis." 

Each year, Betty receives a note from her brother on their transplant anniversary. The whole family also celebrates the wellness of each sibling yearly, and her siblings and family members often meet on the island.

25 years later, Betty continues to live an active life with one kidney, from sea kayaking in Gwaii Haanas for her 50th birthday to playing ringette each week.

    Betty expedition kayaking.jpg

"It has been nothing but rewarding to still have my brother here 25 years later. He lives a super active and healthy lifestyle and I do not even notice that I only have one kidney," says Betty. "I didn't have to make any changes or slow down in life at all. I've climbed mountains, completed Sun Runs; I play ringette and have my daily activities like walking my dog and gardening."

"It's a beautiful thing to be able to donate and a gift that anyone can truly give."  
 
 
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