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Russ Needs A Kidney

close up RUSS IMG_3748 (1)Hi. I’m Russ Sawatsky and I’ve got two bum kidneys, but one transplant will do. On this site you’ll find out how to give a kidney, get a kidney and save lives.

To find out more about organ donation, scroll down.

To be even more wonderful, sign your organ donation card.

To explore how to get Russ a kidney, please email kidneyforruss@gmail.com.

A Follow-Up: “I donated a kidney. I have no regrets.”

A few days ago I reposted an article from the Washington Post written by Michael Poulson, who had regretted donated a kidney at age 18. Here is a “Letter to the Editor” from a living donor, Macey Henderson, who at age 24, donated a kidney to her 36-year-old cousin. To what might we attribute the difference in their attitudes?

I donated a kidney. I have no regrets.

When I was 24, I gave a kidney to my 36-year-old cousin who had been on dialysis for two years, and I have no regrets.

I respect Michael Poulson’s lifesaving kidney donation and his desire to better understand the risks of donating, but aspects of his article were misinformed.

As a research scientist who actively studies risk after living donation, I can report that data show that more than 95 percent of donors are satisfied with their donation decision.

I am not scared about the risk of kidney failure after donating. Mr. Poulson stated that we do not know how many people donate and how many of them develop kidney failure, but that was incorrect: There are national data sources for both of these, and research has been published based on almost 100,000 donors showing that kidney failure risk after donating is a tiny 0.3 percent.

I spend my days thinking not of my remaining kidney but of ways to design a better transplant system, in which live donor care is optimized.

Macey Henderson, Gaithersburg

The writer is a member of the national
transplant network (United Network for
Organ Sharing) Living Donor Committee.
The views expressed are her own.

One (somewhat painful) step back

Yesterday, Tuesday, October 4, I was at University Hospital for my regular nephrology clinic appointment. I mentioned to the doctor that I had been having some pain in my right leg for the last few weeks. I had put it down to excessive enthusiasm for walking following my surgery, which had also caused plantar fasciitis (now more or less resolved). Since it wasn’t subsiding, I wondered if it might be something else, like a blood clot. Well, in short order I was sent off to the Radiology department to have an ultrasound done.

The ultrasound technician was very thorough, working from the top of my leg to the bottom. She told me she spotted “something.” As a result, even though I had walked to radiology, I was now told I had to be taken back to nephrology in a wheelchair.


The upshot of all this: Yes, I have a blood clot. I will now be on daily injections of Fragmin ( a blood thinner) for the next three weeks and I will also be referred to the Thrombosis clinic for followup.

While I would have preferred to have learned that it was just a sore calf muscle, I am glad that the true cause of the pain was discovered and is now being treated. Even better, the doctor said I could continue to walk…so I walked home from the hospital, about 30 minutes.

In other matters, the clinic appointment was uneventful. I continue to make progress toward healing. Thank you for your continued support, good wishes and prayers.

At 18 years old, he donated a kidney. Now, he regrets it.

This article  was originally published in The Washington Post on October 2. This is not an article I am particularly fond of. A living donor now regrets the decision he made at age 18. As the recipient of a kidney via living donation, and knowing of at least a couple of people who were willing to donate a kidney anonymously (sometimes referred to as an undesignated or altruistic donation), it troubles me that Mr. Poulson now regrets his decision. It also troubles me that living donors may be putting their lives at risk beyond the immediate risk of the surgery itself. Even so, I think this is worth reading the perspective of a young living donor. Please note that this is article is particularly applicable to the US context.

You may or may not want to read the comments following the article, however. Some are disheartening and mean-spirited. Others are encouraging.

By Michael Poulson
When I was 18, my stepfather’s brother had been on dialysis for just over a year. He was thin, he exercised regularly and he seemingly was in perfect health, but inexplicably his kidneys began to fail him. Although I was just about to leave for college, I’d heard enough about the misery of dialysis to decide to get tested as a possible donor. In the back of my mind, I knew that the chances of our compatibility were incredibly low because we were not related by blood. Perhaps that made it easy for me to decide to get tested.

When we received the results, I was stunned to find out that he and I were a match. The transplant team gave me plenty of opportunities to back out of the donation, and it put me through countless evaluations, physical and psychological. Much of my family was steadfast against my becoming a donor. Looking back, who could blame them? Their son-grandson-nephew was going to undergo a major operation with no benefit to himself.

However, I continued to be confident in my choice. I relied on the one fact that would be repeated to me many times: “The rate of kidney failure in kidney donors is the same as the general population.” Why wouldn’t everyone donate a kidney, I wondered.

My mother was the only one to — reluctantly — support my decision. She accompanied me to San Francisco, where the surgery took place, and we settled in for the weeks that I would spend recovering. On the day of the surgery, anesthesia flowed into my arm and the world swiftly slipped away. Then, just as quickly, it seemed, I awoke, nauseated and confused. So much preparation for such a short nap. The anxiety I’d felt about the surgery was now gone — as was one of my kidneys.

An uneventful recovery came and went. I returned to college and resumed a normal life. Likewise, my step-uncle did very well and is living a full and healthy life, as is my donated kidney.

Michael Poulson regrets giving that kidney away. (University Photo)

Michael Poulson regrets giving that kidney away. (University Photo)

Five years after the surgery, when I was 23 and getting ready to go to medical school, I began working in a research lab that was looking at kidney donors who had gone on to develop kidney failure. For that research, I talked to more than 100 such donors. In some cases, the remaining kidneys failed; in others, the organ became injured or developed cancer. The more I learned, the more nervous I became about the logic of my decision at age 18 to donate.

Click here to read more…


London Kidney Walk 2016

This weekend, Sunday, September 25, I will be walking in the London edition of the Kidney Walk, a fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation of Canada. Last year was the first time I participated in the Walk. In fact, I hadn’t been aware of it previously, despite 30+ years of living with kidney disease. This weekend, Friday, September 23, to be precise, will also mark eight weeks since I received my transplant.

And, as long as I am marking significant events, this past Monday, my friend Gerald donated one of his kidneys as part of the Paired Kidney Donation program run by Canadian Blood Services. His donation, although after my own surgery, made it possible for me to receive a new kidney. I had the pleasure of phoning him and his wife yesterday, Tuesday, the day after his surgery, and he sounded just fine! Praise God for his tremendous gift. I wouldn’t be where I am now without his generosity.

I’ve made a lot of progress in the last nearly eight weeks, but I still have a ways to go. I get tired very quickly, and a little bit of exertion brings out the sweat in buckets. On the positive side, walking is not that difficult. I’ve already walked more than half an hour at a time on several occasions, so I don’t anticipate any problems with the Kidney Walk. Again, I’ve made progress. Take a look at my vigorous steps two days after my surgery (video courtesy of my long-suffering wife, Etsuko):

With respect to the Kidney Walk, if you are interested in sponsoring me, there is still time to do so online here: Welcome to Russell Sawatsky’s page.

Thanks so much to all those who have already been so generous either with donations or with words of encouragement. They have meant a great deal to me and my family.

Three Weeks Post-Discharge

Wow! Three weeks already. Time for an update.

My life during these three weeks can be summarized by the following: diminishing pain and discomfort, semi-sleepless nights compensated for by afternoon naps, an improved appetite, gradually increasing walks, frequent visits to the nephrology clinic, and reliance on others.

I’m happy to report that the discomfort and tiredness that are normal following major surgery, have subsided a great deal. Healing is happening. I am much more mobile. Even so, something as minor as a shower feels like a major event that tires me out quite thoroughly. Still, enough discomfort remains that I don’t sleep all that well at night yet, although in compensation, I have a nap in the afternoon. (Wow! What an exciting report, eh?)

On the plus side, my appetite is improving. At first, I really didn’t want to eat that much. Between the mandate to drink a lot of water and the residual pain from my surgery (the scars on my abdomen might be quite a topic of conversation the next time I go swimming; that, or the response will be hastily averted eyes) I wasn’t very hungry. That’s changing now, which is fortunate, because I was losing weight and probably not eating enough protein to support the healing that my body wanted to do.

Another factor in improving health is getting exercise, primarily in the form of walking. In the first week I was back home, I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and I was exhausted after a 10-minute walk. At this point, I’d say my gait looks more or less normal, albeit significantly slower than pre-surgery, and I’m able to walk up to 30 minutes at a time. I’ll walk outside during the early morning and the evening, but I’m behaving a bit like a vampire these days, actively hiding from the sun so as to keep my now cancer-susceptible skin as healthy as possible.

The inimitable Bela Lugosi, vitamin D deficient from avoiding sunlight

The inimitable Bela Lugosi, vitamin D deficient from avoiding sunlight

A big part of each week has been visits to the Nephrology (kidney specialists) clinic at University Hospital. It’s almost like a club in a way, as I was meeting other transplanted “outpatients,” some of whom had transplants in the same week that I had my own surgery. And since the time in the waiting room seems to go literally goes on for hours, we have gotten to know each other a bit. As it turns out, it seems quite likely that I have met my donor! A married couple had been coming in to the same clinics as I have been, and as we got to talking, I learned that she had received her new kidney on Wednesday, July 27, and that her husband had donated a kidney as part of the Paired Kidney Donation program on Friday, July 29, the same day as my surgery. He had donated his right kidney. I received a right kidney. His blood type is type O; mine is type O as well. I came into the hospital at 5:45 AM in order to avoid meeting the donor. He came into the hospital at 6:15 in order to avoid meeting the recipient. To my knowledge, there were no other kidney transplant surgeries that day. These things happen…. Interestingly, they had found out who her donor was as well, on the very day of her surgery. I will still send a thank you card “anonymously” via the hospital, but it’s quite something to look into the eyes of someone who gave you an organ out of his own body that is making a significant difference in your life.

Another graphic explaining one way that the Paired Kidney Donation program works.

Another graphic explaining one way that the Paired Kidney Donation program works.

As much as I have been getting good news at these clinic appointments, no one really likes to spend a lot of time at the hospital as a patient. Initially, I was going in twice a week. Yesterday marked the first appointment that was at the once per week level. I expected that to go on for a few more weeks, but the doctor who saw me said that I was doing so well I didn’t need to come in until two weeks later. If they’re happy, I’m happy.

None of this would be possible without a lot of help from a lot of people. At my first clinic appointment, Etsuko accompanied me the whole time, something like 4 1/2 hours. Since then I’ve gotten stronger, and we haven’t felt it necessary that she be with me through the whole appointment. She arranged for a number of people from church to pick me up after my appointment is done, so that she can make her way to work after dropping me off at about 7:30 in the morning. I’m grateful for rides from Enos K., Tim F., and Jake F. these last few weeks. Of course, Etsuko has had to pick up slack in other ways, too. I don’t have much energy to cook these days (I never realized how taxing it was to stand in front of the range until now), so after coming home from work, Etsuko makes supper, too, something that I have generally done. The same goes for any of the other household tasks that I have generally contributed to.

Our oldest daughter, Rika, even came in from Toronto one weekend to look after me while Etsuko and our son Aaron went down to Virginia with our third daughter, Aisha, to help her move in as she begins her Master of Architecture program at the University of Virginia. Rika, in addition to being a brilliant junior associate lawyer is also a pretty good cook. She even made kale tasty (my opinion about kale has been significantly warped shaped by comedian Jim Gaffigan’s rant about kale in his Obsessed video — here it is from Youtube!).

Aaron, currently living at home following the completion of his M.A. in History here at “Western” (University of Western Ontario) has also been helpful, often doing errands for me that I simply can’t accomplish these days. For instance, today, he picked up a prescription for me. Really, I don’t know what I’d do without the support of my family.

This photo's a few years old now, but it's the most recent "formal" photo we have.

This photo’s a few years old now, but it’s the most recent “formal” photo we have.

One Week Post-Discharge from the Hospital

On Friday, July 29, I received a transplanted kidney from a living donor. The surgeon who performed the surgery was Dr. Alp Sener, urologist at the University Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, London, Ontario. My new kidney immediately began producing urine so Dr. Sener removed the catheter that had placed in my belly for peritoneal dialysis two years earlier. Yay! No additional surgery required.

Dr. Alp Sener

Dr. Alp Sener

My surgery did not begin until 2 pm, even though I had to be in the hospital at 5:45 am that morning. The medical staff needed to know that I was not ill so that they could go ahead with the removal of the kidney from the donor. It made for a long wait for me, and for my wife, Etsuko, and four children, Rika, Keila, Aisha and Aaron, and for two people from Valleyview Mennonite Church, Alvin M. and Erma K.

The last thing I remember in the operating room before the surgery was that there was a mask placed over my face and I was told to breathe deeply to take in lots of oxygen. Eventually, they must have introduced an anesthetic, because shortly after… I was awake in the Transplant Unit. The four hours of surgery and two hours in the post-surgery recovery area took no time at all by my reckoning.

Since then, one of my main accompaniments has been pain. Having one’s belly cut into is not a minor event. I didn’t sleep much that first night; I know that because a nurse came in and checked me out every hour. Not surprisingly, given we are dealing with a kidney, is that they wanted to see how much urine I was producing. It looked a lot like cranberry juice during those first days.

I’ve been told that one of the keys to a quick recovery is to get the patient moving. So, the next day, I was helped to sit up and make my way to the chair in my room a mere two steps away. It seemed like an almost impossible accomplishment. Then they brought in a scale and I had to stand up and step onto that device. For a guy who had been walking 8-10 kilometres almost every day for the last few years, these small actions seemed like quite a comedown, and yet they were as strenuous as anything I had faced in a long time. From there I graduated over the next few days to a 20 metre jaunt and eventually multiple laps around the unit.

A transplanted kidney likes to be “wet.” Completely contrary to my time on dialysis, then, instead of moderating my fluid intake, I was told to drink a lot, at least two litres of water per day, and on top of that, they were pumping fluids into me via IV throughout the first few days of my stay. When I woke up one morning, I was puffy from top to bottom, including my eyelids. Not a pleasant feeling. I had also gained 10 kilos of water weight. I’m pleased to say that excess water is almost all gone now, though, which makes for a much more comfortable body.

I’m so grateful for all the visitors, several people from church as well as neighbours. I can’t say enough about the importance of that kind of support. On top of that, we are so fortunate to be living nearby the hospital so that visits from my wife and my two London-based children were a possibility. Transplant patients in London come from all over Ontario, which makes that kind of support more of a challenge for those who come from farther away.

Our public health care system is often criticized, but I have to say that my experience has been better than anything I could have expected. The care of the nurses, the twinkle in the eyes of the doctors when they came in day after day, telling me that my new kidney is functioning so very well, the staff who organized this wonderful thing called Paired Kidney Donation. As I heal, I know that I am going to be freer and healthier than I have been in decades. What other response can there be than gratitude?

University Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre

University Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre

One diagram showing how an undesignated donor can make a difference in many lives.

One diagram showing how an undesignated donor can make a difference in many lives.

A quilt of donors hanging in front of the Transplant Unit, showing both living and deceased donors.

A quilt of donors hanging in front of the Transplant Unit, showing both living and deceased donors.

I don’t know who donated a kidney directly to me, and I am not meant to know. Patient confidentiality is an important value in the transplant system. But I will write a letter of thanks. Someone I do know is a friend in British Columbia who was willing to enter into the Paired Kidney Donation program, which allowed me to receive a kidney from another living donor. As I understand it, his donation will take place next month, in September. Again, how can I express sufficient gratitude for what he is about to do? There was another friend in BC as well, who was willing to donate, but ultimately was not selected. This willingness to undergo surgery and weeks of recovery in order that I might regain health expresses a degree of altruism and generosity that I find hard to comprehend. What else is there to say to these people except:

Thank You!


Jumping Through More Hoops

Yesterday, Monday, July 25, was round two in my series of appointments in anticipation of my kidney transplant surgery on Friday, July 29.

As University Hospital is, as the name indicates, a teaching hospital, I have been asked to be involved in a research project. We’ve probably all heard about the good bacteria in our gut, routinely promoted in yogurt commercials. This research project will investigate the impact of a transplanted kidney, with its own bacteria, into the transplanted person’s gut.


This research project of course meant more blood work, so I once again had blood taken from me. And once again, the bloodletting started in one hand and finished in the other. After a couple of hours in the air conditioned hospital, my veins were not terribly accessible. One nurse saw me coming in and said that she was happy that she was busy at the time, thinking that she would therefore not be the person to attempt to draw my blood. However, by the time the requisition was processed, she turned out to be the lucky one, and got the first crack at me. To quote another nurse, I’m a “nice enough person,” but I guess drawing blood from me doesn’t often happen very easily.

It's a joke! The women who take my blood are always kind to me!

It’s a joke! The women who take my blood are always kind to me!

I heard that drawing blood will not be that difficult once the surgery is done. Speaking with a nurse in the living donor program, I learned that a “central line” will be established in my neck(!) which will allow blood to be drawn and meds to be injected without repeatedly poking me with a new needle. I have this image of myself as looking like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. As long as they don’t have to bring me back from the dead, I’ll accept a bit of a monstrous look for a little while. In fact, I saw a young woman at the hospital a few weeks ago who was there for a post-transplant clinic appointment. She had been discharged from the transplant unit just the week before and looked not at all monstrous.

One of the most interesting and sensitive things that I learned about living kidney donation has to do with the confidentiality of the donor and the recipient. I have friends in British Columbia, known to me, who are willing to donate to me but who are incompatible blood types. One of them will therefore donate to someone in need locally but they will not know or meet that person. Likewise, I will not know or meet the person who donates to me. In fact, the hospital will take some pains to maintain confidentiality. For example, my family and the donor’s family will be in separate waiting rooms in the hospital. If discussing the surgery with anyone else during the day of the surgery, I will be undergoing the more generic “abdominal” surgery rather than transplant surgery.

So, what can I do to say thanks? I can write a letter. The social worker with whom I spoke suggests that I write a letter to the donor, keeping everything anonymous and without any personally identifying information. Then, with the social worker having my name and the date of the surgery, she can deliver the letter to the donor.

'Okay, Mom. I'm sorry I re-gifted one of the kidneys you gave me.'

‘Okay, Mom. I’m sorry I re-gifted one of the kidneys you gave me.’

This is actually a fascinating area, apparently. Apparently, some families of donors and recipients have chatted casually while getting coffee at the Tim Horton’s in the hospital and have almost inadvertently made connections. At other times, especially in the case of deceased donors, some recipients or their families have combed through the obituaries of area newspapers in efforts to identify their donors.

Finally, I want to mention the intended schedule. I have to be at the hospital at 6 AM on Friday morning. However, I won’t actually have my surgery begin until about 1 PM. I do have to be there early in the morning, though, because the surgeon will not begin operating on the donor until my health has been determined to be adequate for surgery that day. If I show up at 6 AM with a fever, they are not going to proceed. It’s going to be a long day.

'How's that kidney transplant going?... I need him back on the field - pronto!'

‘How’s that kidney transplant going?… I need him back on the field – pronto!’

Three days to go! Thanks for all your support.