Kathleen Libelt has been attending the VGH Kidney Clinic for many years after being diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) at the age of 24. She witnessed her dad and sister passing away due to the same disease and was hopeful for a different outcome. Eventually, the nephrologist told her the devastating news that her kidney function had declined to the point where she would need to start dialysis or get a transplant. At this time, her husband John Beddis stepped up to offer his kidney to her; luckily he was a perfect match.
What were some of the things that went through your minds when contemplating the procedure?
John: "As the donor, when you have a chance to potentially vastly improve your spouse's life, you do it. Anyone in my position would have done the same."
Kathleen: "I had been going for regular blood work and the nephrologist was tracking and monitoring my kidney function. While I did know my kidney function was steadily declining, I just didn't think I was "bad enough" to actually need a transplant. I had it in my head that dialysis was a death sentence (sorry but true) - not because it is, as I know it helps many kidney patients live happy and healthy lives. When I was told that my kidney function had declined drastically, I remember attending appointments where they provided information about the different kinds of dialysis or the second option which was a transplant. So I admit, I was kind of going through the motions, attending appointments and worrying inside. I started to think about my own mortality. Once it was decided that a transplant is preferred, John offered to be my living donor and by chance, happened to be a perfect match."
"Leading up to the transplant, I had many worries related to the transplant itself including functionality of someone else's kidney, possible side effects, the effects of a transplant on my career, John's health and more. I had all kinds of anxiety and fears but John was a rock for me throughout the entire process."
What was the day like when you received news that his kidney was a match for you? Can you touch on what those emotions were like for both of you?
John: "Feeling was incredible. First thought is 'what are the chances'...then relief, excitement and anticipation."
Kathleen: "When I talked to John about needing dialysis or a transplant, he immediately said "I'll give you a kidney"! I thought, oh how sweet and romantic...but really, what are the chances he'll be a match? As he went through the gambit of tissue typing and tests, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop - that he was not a match. I wasn't sure what to do if John wasn't a match. When the day came and they told me that John was a complete match AND that I have NO antibodies against his tissue...well...suffice to say I was both ecstatic and a bit scared at the same time. I had always thought I might be able to live my life without such a drastic measure...so it was about acceptance to me. That I really was that "ill" and that I needed a kidney transplant. I'm a pretty strong woman, a leader in my career, I'm also an Integral Master Coach and I see my purpose in life to lead, serve and support others. I don't like to feel vulnerable and I almost never ask for help. So this was out of my comfort zone to say the least. I felt incredibly fortunate and grateful to John and just in awe that he was a match for me. This really brought home the meaning of fate and how people are brought into our lives for a reason. I felt humbled, grateful and some trepidation for the future."
Having seen the miracle of transplant so closely, how important is organ donation and discussing one's decisions with family and friends? Or from your case, for someone to consider being a living donor?
John: "As the donor, I was obviously wanting to know how giving up one kidney would affect my life. However, after doing all the research and becoming educated, I found out that you can live a perfectly normal, happy and healthy life with only one kidney. After knowing that, it was an easy decision."
Kathleen: "As the recipient, it's hard to find the words to talk about the significance of organ donation. So I'll try to keep it short and just say - it's quite simply a gift of life. My daughters have both registered now to become organ donors as have many of my close friends and family. Being a donor is the most selfless gift in the world. The gift of life is priceless and is a way to live on through others - a legacy. I believe living donors are the most altruistic and compassionate people, angels on earth."
What would you like to say to the medical teams that are so vital to the success of transplant in our province and in your own circumstance?
John: "Our medical team was incredible. Our health professionals deserve no end of thanks and accolades."
Kathleen: "Thank you! I literally put my life in their hands, for their expertise and care throughout the process, I am forever grateful. I am in awe of my surgeon Dr. Nguan, VGH and his team. A kidney transplant is a long surgery and while this has become a very successful procedure, I remain awestruck that this is even possible for people like me. Everyone was so knowledgeable and supportive throughout the process; an orchestra of skill, coordination and caring. In my opinion, they are quite seriously angels and they saved my life."
What is your perspective on BC's milestone of 50 years of donation and transplant?
"To think that the first transplant occurred 50 years ago in BC is amazing and most worthy of celebration and recognition. The courage it must've taken that individual and the surgical/medical team is inspiring. These pioneers sacrificed and paved the way for hundreds of others, like myself and have saved lives. That is no simple or routine feat. I would like to see increased awareness brought to the importance of organ donation but also the success behind being a living donor. Social media plays a critical role behind marketing organ donation and the success stories as a result. I am impressed by the pace and the success with the research and development behind organ donation in BC and in Canada and would support additional R&D and funding to the medical teams/caregivers that is so desperately deserved and needed. Organ donation is a gift that lives on and should be celebrated and recognized at the highest levels."