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5. #50YearsofTransplant: Ashley Hiebert

The story of 50 years of donation and transplant in BC is also the story of the organ donors – living and deceased – who give the gift of a second chance at life to so many British Columbians.

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Ashley Hiebert donated one of her kidneys in 2016 so that the wife of a high-school friend could receive a life-saving kidney transplant. 

What compelled you to become a living kidney donor?

A high school friend of mine wrote a post on Facebook about his wife who needed a kidney transplant—she had been diagnosed with poly-cystic kidney disease. Both her kidneys were failing and a kidney transplant was her only option at sustaining her life. I've always believed that everyone's life has the same worth. I didn't think that my life was any more valid than hers, and if none of her family and friends could donate, I thought then a stranger should step up.

Although my kidney wasn't a direct match to her, I ended up donating my kidney to a stranger through the kidney paired exchange. Because I donated on her behalf, she was able to receive a kidney through that chain.

What questions or concerns did you have before donating your kidney?

I was just a bit on edge a couple days before the surgery from general stress, and the fact that I wasn't allowed to eat like usual.  I had questions about quality of life post-surgery; I work independently and a lot of it requires physical labour, so I was a bit anxious about how that might be affected. Making sure that I could be healthy and strong enough to continue my career was important.  I had questions about the possibility of having a baby in the future and how that might be affected, but doctors were able to reassure me that this would still be possible.

What would you say about the common misconceptions people have around living organ donation?

The quality of medical care and the doctors we have today are fantastic. These are strong reasons why someone should consider donating, if it's something they see as important and having value, as I did.

It's easy to get lost in the emotional aspect of giving up a part of you and its consequences on your future. But if you approach this decision rationally and put in the time to ask your questions to the right people, i.e., medical professionals, I'm sure you will find a lot of peace and reassurance in what could be one of the greatest decisions you make as a human being. It's also good to know that it's in the best interest for our medical system to ensure living donors enjoy the same quality of life after their donations, so that more people gain confidence and trust in their decision to give life.

How has your quality of life been since transplant?

About three weeks after my surgery, I took time off from work, and travelled to Sicily and Malta alone. The only struggle I had was being able to carry my own luggage, as you would after any surgery! I had help thankfully but, other than that, I had no concern whatsoever.

The same is the case even today—my quality of life has been great! I'm travelling, thriving, running my two businesses successfully, and just living life the way I want to, without having any restrictions or needing to say no to anything. It's been just over two years now and my life has been totally normally.

What's the most rewarding aspect of having donated your kidney to someone?

Seeing my recipient living her life, interacting with her kids, and knowing that she can enjoy the very simple things that she doubted she would – because of my decision – has been truly special.

I met one of her daughters during the annual Kidney Walk, and she asked if she could have my number, which she saved on her phone with the name, 'my hero'. Reflecting on moments like that brings tears to my eyes and makes me feel really great about what I was able to do for the family.

What's your perspective on the milestone of 50 years of donation and transplant in BC?

I think we have seen some amazing things in transplant in our province, and there's only more to come. I'm happy at how the stigma around transplant diminishes by the day, and as we progress in intervention and research, hopefully there will come a day when people won't find themselves in the position my kidney recipient did.

I think sharing our experience and speaking to people in the community about donation and transplant has such a powerful effect on changing perceptions, and I can't thank BC Transplant and all the volunteers that are supportive of this cause for being such an integral part of that.



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