Tag Archives: Vancouver

The Globe and Mail. “No more secrets: Why I broke protocol as a kidney donor”

This “First Person” article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail on April 27, 2018.



Twice a year – at Christmas and in early June – I hear from a man whom I have met only once, who lives in a remote village far from my Vancouver home, but with whom I share something intimate: our kidneys. I’ve got one, he’s got the other. I’m not supposed to know this man. Protocols in the national Kidney Paired Donation program decree that donors and recipients who are strangers should remain that way.

Vern and I were part of a cross-Canada exchange involving multiple donor-recipient pairs that resulted in my daughter, Kasari, receiving a kidney from someone closer to her age and my kidney going to Vern, who is closer to my age and for whom my kidney will be a better match.

While for some, donor-recipient confidentiality in a paired kidney exchange makes perfect sense, for inquisitive people like Kasari and me (and, it turns out, Vern and his wife, Shirl), engaging in something as intimate as a kidney transplant ignites our most basic curiosity. Who is now walking around with my kidney? What kind of a person is she or he? How does she or he feel about it? How is my kidney working out for them? And who gave my daughter the incredible gift of her new kidney? I mean, this is a vital organ we’re talking about. This is shared DNA. This is important, life-altering stuff.

By putting two and two and two together and watching those shuffling the post-op corridors and the comings and goings during endless hours in post-op waiting rooms, Kasari and Shirl were able to figure out whose kidney went to whom. Because we are not supposed to know these things, they had to be tentative, discreet and sensitive to signals when exchanging pleasantries before my daughter could say, “I think my mum’s kidney went to your husband. What do you think?”

Click here to read the rest of the article.




A Message from a Living Kidney Donor

A few months ago in the post, A Somewhat Oddly Timed Thanksgiving, I mentioned Gerald Neufeld, who donated a kidney on my behalf as part of the Paired Kidney Donation (a.k.a. Living Donor Paired Exchange) program. I had mentioned in that post that Gerald had been a missionary in Japan. These days Gerald continues to be involved in church ministries in two part-time roles, one as pastor of a small Japanese congregation in Surrey, BC, and the other as the music coordinator for Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, BC. On February 12, he shared the following message at Emmanuel:

Faith, Christian Community, and Kidney Donation

Galatians 6:1-10

I’d like to tell you a bit about my experience in donating a kidney a number of months ago. Most of this message will be about my experience. Many people think that it must have been a huge decision for me, but I really felt like it was just a number of small steps of faith. God has blessed me with great health, a supportive family, and a wonderful church community. In deciding to take steps to donate a kidney I felt like I was just responding to God for all the blessings I’ve received…

If you read the article I wrote in the Emmanuel newsletter you would have seen how I decided to donate. Rather than it being one huge step of faith, it really felt like a lot of little things, pieces of a puzzle that came together. As I reflect on this, I realize how much community has been woven through the whole process.

In Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia he tells them to “Bear one another’s burdens…” Here, he’s likely talking about helping people who are of bearing the burden that results from sin and the consequences of sin, but the burdens that we can help each other with could be anything that takes away from the joy in living our faith – sickness, difficulty finding work, struggles in relationships, uncertainty about the future… I’m not going to get into a lot more detail here but I thought this passage fits well with the role of the faith community in everyday life. A big part of bearing one another’s burdens involves prayer, and as I look back on my experience it’s interesting how the prayers and support of our faith community played such a major role.

At a Vancouver pastor’s meeting, when I first heard a prayer request for a man who was dying because his kidneys were failing, I began to not only pray for him, but I also thought, “Would it work for me to actually donate a kidney?” I began praying to see if God may be leading me this way. Didn’t John the Baptist say “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none”? I figured I have two healthy kidneys, I guess maybe I could share with someone who has none (at least none that are functioning well)! I remember my wife Rie’s initial reaction. “I hope it doesn’t work out for you to do it!” She was quite worried! But then, she also began to pray about it and soon she was strongly supporting me, I think because she sensed that maybe God was leading me in this direction. I did lots of research, and found out that most people who donate a kidney have no problems afterward and can live a normal life. You don’t need any special medication or anything, and the only restriction I have now is that they advise against skydiving. (I’ve never figured out why)…

I read in the Canadian Mennonite magazine about another pastor who donated a kidney, and had no problems, so I decided to take another step and begin the donation process. I had to go through many tests in order to make sure I was healthy enough to donate. If any tests showed a danger of health problems in the future, I would not have been allowed to continue the process. It was at this point that I heard the one to whom I’d possibly donate a kidney, was from the same family that had given me a guitar several months earlier! When my 12-string guitar had been stolen I had put out a prayer request during one of the pastor’s meetings, hoping someone may know about a good deal on buying another guitar, and one pastor suggested he could check with a church member who has a 12-string guitar that was hardly ever used. Right away, I heard that I could have it. Now, this was the same family praying for a kidney! I had already pretty much decided to start the process to donate, but this helped confirm my decision. If they gave me a guitar, I guess I could give them a kidney! Since I wasn’t compatible with the person who needed the kidney, I joined a special program where other incompatible donors and recipients are matched. So, between 2, 3, or 4 incompatible pairs people could be matched so that each person can indirectly donate or receive. It usually takes several months, but before we were matched, the other person actually received a kidney from a deceased donor. I then wondered if God was saying, OK, you don’t have to donate anymore. But by that time, I had heard about a different friend who needed a kidney, so I decided to stay on the list in order to donate for him. Why not? I was all ready to donate! Russ Sawatsky is a friend I’d met in Japan. We’d both been mission workers there, and had met several times. Now, Russ is living with his family in Ontario… After much waiting, we were finally matched and we each had surgery.

To have surgery, I wasn’t too scared because I felt that God had led me to this decision. Of course there was a potential that there may be some complication, but I felt that even if I ended up with some major problem, God would continue to lead me through. I sensed your prayers as well as the prayers of many others in my wider community of family and friends.

Through this whole process, I didn’t let myself think too much about possible things that could go wrong (‘cause I didn’t want to chicken out!) (even though the chances of anything terrible happening were quite slim). I expected everything to go smoothly, but there were a few unexpected things that happened, reminding me that this was a complex process. I guess one thing is that the whole process took longer than I expected. When I first called the number of the “Pre-Assessment Transplant Clinic,” I gave them my email address, and they then sent me all the information I needed to get started in the process. I was thinking in my head that once I called that number, I was committing myself to donate, and would probably have surgery within a few weeks. It could have happened in a couple of months, but in the end, it was over a year later that everything finally worked out. During the process there were many opportunities for me to decide to opt out if I wanted. The staff were very careful to make sure I didn’t feel obligated to continue if I suddenly felt uncomfortable about the whole thing.

After the surgery, I was a bit surprised that it was somewhat more challenging than I had expected. There was no time when I felt all that much pain. At home, though, I took the maximum recommended dosage of painkillers because I wanted to be able to sleep, but it had the opposite effect. My mind went into a panic and I was not able to sleep for over 30 hours! It was a strange feeling, and at times I thought I might die. I prayed quite a bit during that time, committing to God, but physically my mind could not stop racing. After that I didn’t take any more painkillers and I actually don’t think I needed them. I’m glad that the weird effects only lasted about a day, and I’m thankful for all your prayers during my recovery. It was quite meaningful for me to know that I am a part of a larger faith community. It wasn’t just my own prayers that gave me strength, as I’ve mentioned before. You have been participating as well.

In the scripture passage read today, Paul not only encourages the people to bear one another’s burdens, he also says that everyone must carry their own loads. This might seem to be contradictory, but the meaning is different. We are to support and encourage each other along the way, but everyone must also take responsibility for their own actions. Someday, we’ll each have to give an account of how well we lived with what God has given us. The good news is that we are already children of God, part of God’s Kingdom through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us on the cross.

Today’s passage from Galatians ends with the encouragement to do what is right, not giving up, and whenever we have the opportunity, to “work for the good of all, especially those of the family of faith.” We all have chances to take a step of faith in some area. It doesn’t have to be organ donation. Maybe God is calling you to commit to give a greater percentage of your money to help others. Or maybe you are being called to give of your time, or something else in a different area. It may be a bit scary, but if you take just a small step of faith, you will see what God can do! And the one step may lead to another and another! I actually did a lot of calculating before deciding to donate a kidney, but I’m trying to trust more and more in God’s leading so that I can take more steps in the direction I feel God leading, even if I haven’t calculated and weighed all the possibilities. Sometimes I end up waiting too long before taking a step of faith, but with the support and encouragement of believers around me I’m learning to trust our Lord, more and more. Our steps of faith may be wobbly like a baby learning to walk. We’ll sometimes fall, but like a loving parent, I believe God is pleased to see us keep trying.

The great thing is that we are not alone in taking our steps. We are part of a faith community. How do we bear one another’s burdens? Here in Canada, we value independence. We teach kids to stand on their own, and take their own responsibility. We make sure we are doing the right thing, and it doesn’t matter so much how others are doing. But, when I lived in Japan I saw a different culture where the emphasis was much more on the community. The needs of the group take priority over individual needs. In Japan people are taught to think about the needs of others before their own. I sometimes notice this cultural difference between my wife and me. She’s criticised my driving because I’ve often failed to let others into my lane. My driving style is to mainly make sure I am following the rules, and others can do what they want, but in Japan people are taught to consider others, even when driving. I think we can learn something from them in this area.

It’s so easy to go through life with blinders on (like a horse). Sometimes horses have blinders on each side of their head so they don’t get distracted and can focus straight ahead. Instead, I’m trying to take more notice of what’s happening around me. It’s not good to just focus on my own situation all the time. Is there some area where you’ve noticed a need? Maybe it’s time to step into the situation in order to offer help in bearing another’s burden, so to speak.

All through the process of my experience, I’ve sensed the work of the wider faith community — after losing my guitar, in my request for prayer at the pastor’s meeting, the request for prayer when someone needed a kidney, the prayers and support from you as well as family and friends in other places, as I underwent surgery, the prayers and support as I took time off work. Community played a role as I learned through the Canadian Mennonite magazine about the other pastor who donated a kidney. And, my connection with Russ Sawatsky through mission work and the wider Mennonite community was another area where community played a role. It’s good to hear that Russ is now doing well, and also the person who directly received my kidney here in BC. I also feel pretty much back to normal.

So, what about each of us, in our lives? Where might God be leading us to take a small step of faith? Jesus said we only need faith the size of a tiny mustard seed. The reason is, God recognizes our little attempts to be faithful, and brings us the rest of the way. Each of us are called to really just take a small step. It usually involves some risk. Maybe God is calling you to take a step. Many people have already signed a donor card. It can easily be done online, and even kids can sign up. A link is provided in the bulletin, but you can also just do a search for “BC Transplant.” Someone who has registered a decision to donate any organs needed, after death, could potentially save the lives of eight different people. Or, some of us may feel a calling to sometime become a live donor. Recently, I was amazed to hear that if you donate a part of your liver, it grows back! If I’d known that, maybe I should have done a liver donation rather than kidney! No… I have no regrets. Maybe someday I’ll consider the liver. But, one thing is becoming more and more clear to me. I think I may never have experienced donating a kidney if it hadn’t been for the supportive community and the encouragement I experienced in the small steps along the way.

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, you have blessed us with so much! Thank-you for all you’ve given us. Thank-you that through your Son, Jesus we have perfect peace and joy. Thank-you for the gift of your church. Each day, you lead us, O Lord. Thank-you that no matter what happens around us we need not fear, because you walk with us. Help us to trust that you always provide us with everything we need to do your will. Increase our generosity, that we may rely more and more on you and less and less on ourselves. Grant us the courage to step out in faith. Help us to notice those areas where you call us to step in and help bear another’s burden. May we recognise the opportunities you give us to take those small steps of faith, through the power of Christ at work within us, Amen.

Do you support presumed consent for deceased organ donation?

A couple of days ago, I posted a report about the Kidney Transplant Summit in Vancouver on May 1. Below is the news release from the Kidney Foundation, reporting on the Summit. Rather remarkably, the Kidney Foundation is recommending that BC adopt presumed consent legislation in an effort to increase the number of kidney transplants in the province.

This is a big deal. Presumed consent is not currently the policy anywhere in Canada and it would take not only legislation, but, I suspect, a rather significant culture shift as well for this to become reality. Frankly, I would love to see this whole discussion become irrelevant. How? By all of the people who say they are in favour of organ donation going to the appropriate website and consenting to be an organ and tissue donor. As the release states, 95% of British Columbians say they support organ donation, yet only 19% are registered. Similar disparities exist across the country.

Read the news release here, and let me know what you think.

Kidney Transplant Summit recommends presumed consent legislation to increase organ donation in BC

Should British Columbians be made organ donors by default?

This is a repost from CTV Vancouver. On May 1, Vancouver hosted a Kidney Transplant Summit. Among other things, there was significant discussion about the merits of presumed consent, that is, the presumption that a deceased person has consented to the donation of his or her organs upon death. This is different than the current practice in BC, and indeed, the rest of Canada where one must register as an organ donor.

Watch the video, read the article, and tell me what you think. Thanks.

Should British Columbians be made organ donors by default?

With nearly 500 British Columbians anxiously awaiting organ transplants, there are new calls to make everyone in the province donors by default.

According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, only 19 per cent of B.C. residents are registered organ donors. That’s a surprisingly low number considering a poll conducted just last year found 95 per cent of the province’s adults support donation.

The answer, according to some advocates, is the system known as presumed consent.

“It’s the gift of life,” kidney disease survivor Joel Solomon told CTV News, “and there is so much suffering that is unnecessary.”

Solomon made a passionate case for presumed consent at the 2015 Kidney Transplant Summit in Vancouver Friday. The system has already been introduced in dozens of European countries, and Solomon said some of them saw donation rates increase as much as 30 per cent.

Most countries also give people the ability to opt-out, but the idea of automatic enrollment is still controversial in Canada.

For Solomon, the issue boils down to basic human decency.

To read more, click here.

Clock is ticking for kidney disease patients

This article comes from my hometown newspaper, The Chilliwack Progress. The author, Jessica Peters, brings to light a number of important points when it comes to kidney disease.

1. Kidney failure is a progressive condition. The body has a remarkable ability to cope with declining kidney function without producing symptoms that are easily noticeable. Cameron Buchanan, the person at the centre of the story was down to 10 percent kidney function before he became aware of the seriousness of his situation.

2. Kidney transplants are the most common of organ transplants and the success rate for such transplants is high.

3. A kidney from a living donor provides the best outcome.

4. A match for donation, either living or deceased, is not always easy. As the article indicates, one man had been waiting on dialysis for eight years.

5. In British Columbia, 364 out of the 465 people in need of an organ transplant are waiting for a kidney transplant. The average wait time for a kidney transplant in BC is 4.8 years.

6. Many people say they are willing to donate their organs upon their death, but in BC, only 20 percent have registered as organ donors.

7. The opt-in vs. opt-out choice regarding deceased organ donation continues to be a live question. As the article notes, on May 1 there will be a summit in Vancouver on the merits of “assumed” consent for deceased organ donation.

8. Kidney disease is often a side effect of other diseases, for example, untreated high blood pressure or, as in Buchanan’s case, diabetes.

9. The costs to support a patient who has received a transplanted kidney are much less than to provide a person with life-sustaining dialysis therapy.

10. Potential living kidney donors go through a rigorous and confidential screening process and can change their mind at any time in the process, for any reason.

Clock is ticking for kidney disease patients

Cameron Buchanan, who's on kidney dialysis, and his mother Mary Jean are hoping more people will sign up to be a living donor to help shorten the wait list for those in need of organs. JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Cameron Buchanan, who’s on kidney dialysis, and his mother Mary Jean are hoping more people will sign up to be a living donor to help shorten the wait list for those in need of organs. JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

When Cameron Buchanan found out his kidneys were failing, he was already in stage four of kidney disease.

It came as a shock to him, like it does with many kidney disease patients.

“I didn’t feel any effects at that time,” he said. But blood tests showed that his kidneys were nearing the end of their lifespan.

Soon he began to feel some of the first noticeable symptoms, including fatigue. At that point, his kidneys had about 10 per cent lifespan left. Then one day his wife, Patti, realized he wasn’t making any sense. He was rushed to the hospital and tests showed he was down to six per cent kidney function.

It was time for dialysis, and planning for an eventual kidney transplant surgery began.

Now, after two and a half years of dialysis and learning to cope with the treatment’s side effects, 45-year-old Buchanan is looking for organ donors — for himself and for those he’s met along the way.

Kidneys are the most commonly transplanted organs in B.C., and the success rate is high for those who make it to surgery. Kidneys from living donors provide the best outcomes, but finding the right match is difficult. Of all Buchanan’s siblings, there are no suitable donors. His mom, Mary Jean Buchanan, is hoping someone in the community will step up to help her son.

To read more, click here.

#Video – Patient says complaint got her kicked off kidney transplant list

Alice Zhang says complaining about care got her kicked off B.C. kidney transplant list

I am reposting this from the CBC website. There is a video as well as extensive article about Alice Zhang’s situation. It raises questions about ethnic and ethical factors in organ transplantation.

A couple of things strike me about this article. The first is her contention that her complaints have resulted in a provisional diagnosis of mental illness. Kidney disease is tough and I can well imagine that a person on hemodialysis could sink into a pattern of complaints. They don’t feel well. It’s hard to “maintain an even keel” in circumstances like that. Especially given that it’s going on six years since she went onto the transplant list. It has barely been six months for me. If I’m still waiting for a transplant in 2021, I might be a little more complaining as well. Whether she is mentally ill and therefore incapable of cooperating in her ongoing therapy is an important question to answer, though. It is good that she is having her mental health reviewed.

The second thing is the fact that she has been waiting for six years for a kidney transplant. This is not explored in this article, but what factor does ethnicity and culture play in the availability of a compatible donor for Ms. Zhang, either deceased or living? According to the article “An Overview of Transplantation in Culturally Diverse Regions,” by Gabriel Oniscu and John Forsythe, point out that East Asian immigrants, deeply rooted in the Confucian tradition of respect for the integrity of dead bodies, have lower donation rates.

Please watch the video and read the article. And, since this is an article about a situation in BC, if you are a British Columbia resident, please register as an organ donor here:  https://register.transplant.bc.ca/

Alice Zhang says complaining about care got her kicked off B.C. kidney transplant list

‘Difficult’ patient involuntarily committed by psychiatrist and removed from transplant list

By Natalie Clancy, CBC News Posted: Feb 19, 2015 5:00 AM PT Last Updated: Feb 19, 2015 7:33 AM PT

Alice Zhang, a mother who speaks only Cantonese, says she’s being denied a life-saving kidney transplant because doctors at Vancouver General Hospital have decided she is mentally ill.

The 45-year-old and her family say she has no history of mental illness and that she was only removed from the transplant list for complaining about her treatment in the hemodialysis unit.

“That’s what started this whole situation” said Zhang, speaking through an interpreter. She said doctors threatened to admit her involuntarily under the Mental Health Act

“They said if I kept making noise, they would drag me into the mental health ward and diagnose me as having mental illness” which is where she ended up on two occasions.

To read more and watch the video, click here.

“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