April is Organ Donation Month — could you change someone’s life?
This story is not about what I have done, but about what you could do to save a life.
My partner, who suffered from kidney disease for many years, was put on dialysis in 2020. The doctors explained that dialysis was not a permanent solution, and that a transplant would offer the best possible improvement to his health and quality of life. It could even extend his life by as many as 15 to 20 years! The doctors also mentioned that a kidney from a living donor would provide a better outcome than a kidney from a donor who was deceased. With a transplant, his reliance on the health care system would be minimized, reducing health care costs in turn.
As a baby boomer and non-relative, I thought my chance of being a donor match was slim. Nevertheless, I agreed to be tested. It was made clear before the testing that only the healthiest people are selected as potential donors and that you can live perfectly well with only one kidney.
The testing period took almost a year, but I saw it as the best physical exam I’d have in my life. Phase one was a multi-page questionnaire followed by lots of blood work, other diagnostic tests, and compatibility testing.
Phase two involved conversations with a social worker, a transplant surgeon, scans of all sorts, and more blood work. When the time came, I was shocked to learn I was a good candidate for the transplant. I didn’t consent to the surgery immediately and took time to talk to other health professionals, my general practitioner, and family and friends. I made a list of all the pros and cons. At the end of the day, I agreed to the surgery. This was a gift of life.
The transplant took place on November 18, 2021, at the Ottawa General Hospital. The transplant teams (his and mine) were exceptional. The kidney started to function normally immediately after it was transplanted into my partner. This was the first time in 15 years that he had a kidney that performed to its full capacity.
There are no words to describe the feelings that overcame me after the surgery when I realized what I had accomplished. This one act had a profound outcome for another person. My surgery was laparoscopic, and I was out of the hospital in three days. I am happy to report that I am back to normal (skiing, snowshoeing, and walking) and feel no different now than before the surgery. My partner continues to recover and enjoy life.
It’s important to note that you don’t need a specific recipient to donate a kidney. You can also donate anonymously, which to me is an extremely selfless act. The need for organ transplants is much greater than the available supply.
Currently, there are approximately 160 people on the transplant list in the Ottawa area, and in Ontario, 1,051 people await a kidney. Wait times range from a few months to several years. In our city, about 60 to 90 transplants from living and deceased donors are performed every year. Kidneys are not the only organ that can be donated by a living donor. Parts of the liver, blood, and bone marrow can also be donated. Do your research and see if it’s right for you — the experience was transformative for me.
If becoming a living donor is not appealing, we should all at least complete the provincial organ donor card or register at www.BeADonor.ca. You can also make your organ donation wishes known to your loved ones. If this story moves you to look into becoming a living kidney donor, you can start by contacting the Living Donor Program at the Ottawa Hospital at 613-738-8400 extension 82778 or LivingKidneyDonor@toh.ca.