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Transplant recipients grateful for the record number of donors who gave the gift of life in October

In October 2023, there were 20 deceased donors, the highest number in BC Transplant history. This was only made possible because of the selfless decision of the donors and their families to give the gift of life.
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L-R: Kidney-transplant recipient Heather Martin after her surgery at St. Paul's Hospital, with nurse Kim Neypes.

When the phone rang that day in October, Heather Martin wasn’t sure if she should answer it as she was in the middle of work. But thankfully, she picked up the phone, as it was the call she had been awaiting. Thanks to an incredibly generous donor and their family, a kidney was available for her and she needed to get to St. Paul’s Hospital.

“I took notes during that call but there were circles and arrows all over the paper,” laughs Heather. “It looked like it was written in another language.” 

At that point, Heather had been living with kidney disease for more than 15 years. Her kidney failure was discovered only because a new doctor she started seeing ordered routine blood work. It showed Heather’s kidney function was down in the 30s -  normal is above 90 - but Heather had no symptoms.

From there, the Cultus Lake resident was closely monitored. She eventually ended up on dialysis two years ago, and was thankful she was able to go on a form of dialysis that can be done at home overnight.

“I was still working four days a week as a call centre customer service representative while doing dialysis,” Heather remarks. “I was feeling okay, until the last few months. My kidney numbers were going downhill.”

Then she got that call. Within a day of receiving her gift of life, the active 70-year old was out of her hospital bed. Within two days, she was walking up and down the hallway outside her room at St. Paul’s.

“I have absolute gratitude for my donor and their family that they were so generous in a very difficult time. ‘Thank you’ can’t begin to encompass what I feel,” says Heather. 
It turns out Heather’s donor was just one of 20 deceased donors who gave the gift of life in October. That is a provincial record for the highest number of deceased donors in one month. As a result, there were 72 life-saving organ transplants for British Columbians in October.    
Heather Martin is recovering well after receiving a kidney transplant at St. Paul’s Hospital in October.

“Donors and their families inspire us each and every day,” says Dr. Sean Keenan, provincial medical director of donation services at BC Transplant. “We believe every family has the right to consider organ donation at the end of life and we are committed to providing compassion and support to donor families.”

One organ donor case can involve upwards of 150 people from recovery to transplant, all working together to honour the decisions of donors and their families, and to save lives.

Surgical recovery specialist Jeevan Kang gets equipment ready for a donor recovery surgery.

Jeevan Kang is one of the surgical recovery specialists on BC Transplant’s Organ Donation and Hospital Recovery team.

“We all know what our ultimate goal is and everybody works towards it,” remarks Jeevan. “Every time I am heading out on a recovery, I always remember that none of this is possible without the incredible donor and their family.”
Heather is now recovering at home and feeling great. At her last transplant clinic appointment, her tests showed that her kidney numbers are the equivalent to someone with two healthy kidneys.

Heather Martin’s son Mac Button has moved to Vancouver temporarily to care for her during her recovery from transplant surgery. Pictured from L to R: Mac Button, Mac’s wife Charly-Ann and Heather Martin.

“I am doing lots of walks now so I can get back in shape to go hiking. I am also a long-term Scrabble player and I play with a club in Chilliwack. They are waiting for me to come back,” Heather smiles. “I am honouring my donor as best as I can by staying healthy and getting back to living a full life.”

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