“Kidney donor recognized for lifesaving gift”

Last week I had a post about the living donor paired exchange program. The following is a repost (from Ottawa Community News) of exactly that sort of circumstance, involving three recipients-donors, a so-called N-Way Exchange.

Kidney donor recognized for lifesaving gift

Ottawa South News

In the eyes of Jacqueline Nemeth, her brother-in-law Steve Mortimer moved mountains so she could one day climb one, a goal she never thought she would accomplish if he hadn’t donated his kidney.

“I just got back from a hiking trip to Mount Assiniboine, which is on the B.C.-Alberta border,” she said of her September hiking trip up more than 2,100 metres.

“One of the things illness teaches people is to live for now. I don’t want to miss anything because I sure feel great right now and I’ve been given this opportunity and a lease on life.”

Nemeth received her second kidney transplant in September 2012 through the Canadian Blood Services’ Living Donor Paired Exchange national kidney transplant registry for incompatible donor-recipient pairs. Despite sharing the same blood type, Mortimer could not directly donate to Nemeth because her body would have rejected his kidney due to an antibody antigen in his blood.

“Just knowing that someone has had their life changed is great. It’s very rewarding.”
– Steve Mortimer, kidney donor

But thanks to the Cedardale resident’s willingness to provide the gift of life, a three-way organ donation exchange was set up among participants whose identities are not disclosed to one another. The Mortimers travelled to Vancouver in September 2012, where another pair and Nemeth were waiting.

Mortimer’s kidney went to a female recipient, whose husband donated a kidney to an out-of-province recipient. And someone close to that recipient donated their kidney to Nemeth.

“It starts off a chain of events so that more people can benefit,” Mary Rada, a registered nurse and living donor co-ordinator of the Renal Transplant Program, based at the Riverside Campus of The Ottawa Hospital, said of Mortimer’s willingness to donate.

Nemeth is also grateful for Mortimer’s gift.

“I wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t received my two transplants,” the 48-year-old said.

“In the case of kidney donations, often direct donations happen, but when they can’t I think it’s really important that people know of the alternative that’s created through the paired exchange, because it’s a wonderful program that has saved hundreds of lives across Canada,” said Mortimer, who was among 36 donors recognized at a special ceremony held at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital on Oct. 14.

Mortimer doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“I think when it’s so close to home and it’s so personal you don’t think of yourself that way. You think of it as stepping up to help a loved one in need,” said Mortimer, 47. “I had the benefit of witnessing as my sister-in-law had an incredible recovery from where she was to where she is now, and for me that’s been tremendously rewarding.”

Nemeth, who lives in Vancouver with her husband, stepson and three teenage daughters, had suffered from kidney disease for much of her young life because of a malfunctioning duct through which urine passes from the kidney to the bladder. She received her first kidney from a deceased donor in 1987 at age 17.

That kidney lasted about 25 years – far longer than the expected 10 to 15 years. In 2011, she was told she needed a replacement.

For Nemeth, the second transplant surgery was done in the nick of time. Her lone kidney was functioning at just 10 per cent.

“Basically when I woke up from the surgery I felt better,” she said.

Nine months later, Nemeth completed a mini-triathlon.

“It’s something I would have loved to have done, but never thought it would have been possible for me, and the only reason it was possible was because of Steve giving me his kidney,” she said. “I feel better than I felt 10 years ago.”

“For her to be able to do that was just amazing,” said Mortimer. “Just knowing that someone has had their life changed is great. It’s very rewarding.”

The recent recognition ceremony was an emotional time for those recipients and donors who participated, said Rada, who has seen firsthand how kidney organ donations change lives.

“It brings back the memories of what they’ve done,” she said.

Between 40 and 45 living donor transplants have been conducted at The Ottawa Hospital annually in last two years.

“It’s amazing,” Rada said of the positive impact of organ donation.

For details on the national registry, visit organsandtissues.ca.

By the numbers:

* 1,037: number of Ontarians on kidney donation waiting list in 2013

* 307: number of Ontarians who received a kidney from a deceased donor in 2013

* 209: number of Ontarians who received a kidney from a living donor in 2013


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