My journey in the Living Kidney Donor program

My journey in the Living Kidney Donor program

Early in 2016 I became Facebook friends with a Castlegar friend of a Facebook friend who I knew even before moving here in 2015. This local group of friends seemed to support each other and laugh at the same kind of weird and wonderful humour that I did. Maybe it is in the water, I thought, being new to Castlegar and noticing the Kootenay vibe in all kinds of places, people and things.

This new friend seemed to post a lot about her family and her son’s need for a kidney…she was and is an outspoken, love-filled person who never, ever tires of advocating for others…hmmm, but for herself…? Many of us need to work on that.

I was a registered organ donor in Ontario where my spouse and I lived until moving here. I had checked off all the boxes, even medical science, and carried the card in my wallet. And like most fairly healthy people, I never gave it much thought… I was too busy living to think about this for any great length of time.

And then I began to read more about Jana Tremblay’s son, Zach. In August 2016, I contacted the Living Kidney Donor Program housed at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. And I received a big information and application package in the mail.

And now it gets kind of weird….I filled it in so easily (and I usually hate forms) and I sent it back, talked with my spouse and my sons about the process, went for a blood test to determine my type (most people don’t know) and waited for the next steps. Our blood types matched.

And then the real testing began — done here in Castlegar and Trail. More blood tests, X-rays, mammogram, ECG. They say that if nothing else, this process offers a potential donor a very, very good medical evaluation. In fact, we are warned that underlying conditions may be uncovered and may also change our lives in ways until now unknown.

This happened to me. I had a setback in my process when a potential medical issue came to light. And it looked like I would not be accepted into the program. This happened just before Christmas (2016) and I was devastated, mostly because I would not be the person who would make Jana, Zach and their family so very, very happy. Ego.

And, my friends, I gotta tell you that my ego is a big part of the journey to be a donor. Ever though I only told a few people of my intention, I heard words like: angel, selfless, wonderful giving. My ego absorbed those words and wow, did it ever react when I hit a roadblock.

My evaluation process was on hold as I waited to speak to the Living Donor Coordinator about how serious my medical issue was. Over the holidays, no contact.

Early in January of 2017, I read a new post by Jana, another plea for a kidney for Zach and I became angry about all the waiting they had to endure. Still not having heard from the program, I called them. After further consultation about the results of my tests, which did not appear to be too serious after all, it was decided that I would be brought into Vancouver to St. Paul’s Hospital for onsite assessment.

In the meantime, I was told that there was another donor for Zach. Wow, how happy tears flowed. And then ego tried really hard to push into my thoughts. But, you know what, that didn’t happen again. I was simply very, very, very happy.

My next step? I began to research the paired-donor exchange program and anonymous donation. My blood type — O — enables me to donate to anyone. I passed all the tests in St. Paul’s in March including a physiological evaluation where I shared my experiences with ego. None of the things that we might consider to be obstacles: age (61), weight (no, not going to tell you that), current meds. None of these were obstacles.

As of today, I am waiting for one more follow-up test. I believe it will be clear and then the Living Donor Team signs me off on me and approves me.

As a donor in Canada, this is in no way a procedure where money changes hands. One of our international students who live with us, when she learned of my decision, asked me how much money I would get. We talked about this, that in Canada, organs are donated and not sold.

So back to being an angel, a life-saver, and a selfless generous soul.

Yes, donating an organ is a big deal but in our country we are so blessed to have the best medical facilities (arguably, in the world). The rest of the world only dreams of having the freedom and the privileges that we do. On this, Canada’s 150th birthday year, let us consider all the ways we are blessed and how we can make a difference in big or small ways.

FYI: I was reimbursed by the Kidney Foundation of Canada for travel and accommodation expenses for my trip to Vancouver. There is a cap on how much more I am eligible for and if we travel far we may exceed the limit. For now, I am trusting in the system, our support network and this community.

So, what happens next? I have chosen to be an anonymous donor who will go anywhere in Canada for my transplant surgery.

I could not do any of this without my partner Elizabeth’s support and love. She had to be 100 per cent on board with my decision as she will carry the greatest portion of our day-to-day financial expenses, she will travel with me leaving others to carry on her ministry, and she will be the primary home-stay host to our international students as I recover.

The decision to become a donor was not just mine alone, it is one our family made together. My two adult sons, one who live in Toronto, Ont. and the other in Scotland, were also involved in my decision. It is because of them — healthy, strong men — that my heart opened up to another mother. Jana, you are an inspiration to us all, mother to mother.

Dear Donna (the successful donor): my ego and I are so incredibly honoured to know you. I am happy that you decided to go public with your decision. I did hear that your spouse gently encouraged you to do so. I, too, am going public with mine. As Jana shows us with every Facebook post and every in-person hug: we truly can make a difference in another person’s life.

Please send me a message (alexander.joan9@gmail.com) if you would like to talk more. I am not an expert and have yet to go through my actual surgery but I am here for you if you are considering becoming a living kidney donor.

You may also contact:

St. Paul’s Hospital

Living Kidney Donor Program

1-877-922-9822