What compelled you to get tested to see if you could become a living donor?
"I had a good friend in elementary school that had to undergo regular dialysis and it always struck me as unfair that he couldn't do a lot of the things all the other kids could do because of his kidney disease. I recall thinking I would donate a kidney one day if a loved one needed one, but fortunately nobody close to me ever did. As an adult, I went back to University to get my BBA, and in one of my classes, I chose to write a paper on our organ donation system in Canada and the ways I thought it could be improved. In my research, I found out the average Canadian was waiting an average of six years to receive a transplant and many were dying while waiting. Additionally, I discovered that one was able to donate a kidney anonymously (something I was not previously aware of). Once I was armed with these facts, I made up my mind to call BC Transplant and see if I could be considered as a donor."
What misconceptions do you believe people have in regard to organ donation?
"As for living donation, I believe many feel it's a far more invasive and life altering event than it actually is. The surgery is now laparoscopic, which results in very small scars and a fairly quick recovery. I answered 90% of my questions by educating myself through research and reaching out to BC Transplant on the procedure, the recovery and life after transplant. For deceased donation, I think many people still believe their BC Driver's Licence indicates their intent to donate, although that has changed and they need to check if they're still registered."
What was the day like when you found out you were a match for someone?
"My story is a bit complex in that I originally got tested as an anonymous donor, but then met a young girl through school that was on the transplant waiting list. We got tested and found out at the cross matching stage that we weren't a match, so I asked her if she wanted to enter Paired Exchange together. We were told during the first run through that we had matched in the database along with three other pairs and were given a surgery date. One week prior to the surgery, I received a call that my friend's donor had to withdraw, which was devastating news. Because they knew I had originally entered the program as an anonymous donor, they asked if I would be willing to proceed with the surgery since the others in the chain would all be affected if I didn't. It was such a difficult decision for me because I did not want to dash my friend's hopes once again, but we decided that if we didn't match in Paired Exchange, I would donate regardless as I was 40 and healthy and couldn't expect my employer to keep giving me time off for testing. I ended up with mixed emotions because I was excited to be helping somebody, but heartbroken for my friend that her lifesaving surgery would yet again be delayed. To give you a happy ending, her boyfriend (now husband) entered Paired Exchange with her and later the same year and she received her kidney!"
Are there any changes in your quality of life since the donation procedure?
"My life has been amazing and I truly forget that I only have one kidney because you can't see my scars and nothing has changed. My recovery was quick; I only missed a month of work but my employer was extremely supportive and I was back in the gym in six weeks and on the soccer field after two months. I have made no changes to my lifestyle at all; I still eat what I want, play contact sports and do all that I did before the surgery."
What is the most rewarding part of being a living kidney donor?
"It feels special knowing that I made somebody's quality of life better. I love sharing my story and what motivated me to donate anonymously because it allows me to educate people on being a living donor. There is definitely a constant feeling of wonder and awe in knowing that this body functions so well every day with just one kidney and that my other one is now doing the same for somebody else. We all know how good it feels to help others, and I get to feel that way every day, for the rest of my life."
What's your perspective on the milestone of 50 years of donation and transplant in BC?
"The fact that we have had over 8000 transplants in BC since the first, and that BC is a national leader in organ donation rates is something we should all be proud of. Every one of those transplants requires so much coordinated effort and timing, and the resources of so many skilled people to culminate in that one life-saving event. I can't say enough about BC Transplant, the Kidney Foundation of Canada, and the staff at St. Paul's and VGH because they are the ones that make this happen. Not every ending is a happy one and despite how difficult that must be emotionally for the staff involved, they come back and go through it again and again, because they are so dedicated to helping others have a better quality of life. Hopefully we'll eventually see the day where nobody dies waiting for a transplant."