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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.

Please contact your MPs: A Canadian Organ Donor Registry

An increasing problem in Canada is the growing gap between the number of people who are waiting for an organ transplant and the availability of donor organs. There are a number of reasons for this shortage of donor organs, not all of them easily solvable. However, there is one thing that can be done that is not being done at this point: establish a national organ donor registry. Currently, organ donor registries are handled at the provincial/territorial level. This means that otherwise compatible donor-recipient pairs are missed and potentially lifesaving organ transplants go undone.

Into this breach has stepped Ziad Aboultaif, a Member of Parliament from Edmonton Manning. On February 19 he introduced a private member’s bill, C-223, The Canadian Organ Donor Registration Act, which would create a national registry.

You can see a video of him introducing his bill here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWBlxXZyj_k

Mr. Aboultaif is doing this not merely because it is eminently good policy. His son has experienced liver disease and has undergone three liver transplants, including the first one when Mr. Aboultaif donated a part of his own liver. Here is an article from the National Post which describes the Aboultaif family’s harrowing journey as well as the deficiencies in Canada’s current patchwork of registration systems: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/conservative-mp-to-table-bill-calling-for-national-organ-donor-registry-after-transplant-saved-his-son

Below is a letter from Mr. Aboultaif to supporters of his bill. Please read it. You will note that the bill is coming up for a second hour of debate on Monday morning, June 13. If successful, it will be passed on to the Health Committee, from which point it has a good chance of becoming law. However, this is a “Private Member’s Bill.” It was not introduced by the government and so it lacks those supports that make passage into law a relatively routine matter. It therefore needs the support of as many MPs in the House of Commons as possible.

I urge you to contact your MPs, whether by email or by telephone, to ask them to support passage of Bill C-223. Monday is a make or break day for this bill and it has the potential to make a major difference in organ donations in Canada.

If you aren’t sure how to contact your MP, follow this link: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members

You can “refine your search” for your MP on the right of the page, and if you are still having trouble, let me know and I will do the search for you.

Thank you,

Russ Sawatsky


Dear Supporter,

You have expressed interest and support for Bill C-223, The Canadian Organ Donor Registry Act, something I very much appreciate.

This is an issue I am passionate about from first-hand experience. I am myself an organ donor, having made a donation of part of my liver to my son Tyler in 2003. That was the first of three liver transplants Tyler received, with the two subsequent ones coming from deceased donors.

From my family’s experience, I became acutely aware of the need for a more coordinated national effort in this area. Each year more than 200 Canadians die while waiting for an organ transplant. This Bill will not only improve inter-provincial communication, which is crucial in time sensitive transplant situations, but will also raise awareness of the need.

Canada’s organ donation rate is among the world’s worst. More than 90% of Canadians support organ and tissue donation in theory, but less than 25% have made plans to donate. While some provinces have a large percentage of citizens having indicated they wish to be organ donors, others have very few, far below the national average.

This is not a partisan issue. Yet during the first hour of debate on this Bill, in April, it did appear that support for this Bill was divided on party lines, with the Liberals opposed. Given the Liberal majority in the House of Commons, should Liberals not support this legislation it will be defeated and this opportunity to do something good for all Canadians will be lost.

On Monday June 13, at 11 a.m. EDT, the House of Commons will again consider Bill C-223. You can watch the debate live on CPAC and online at www.cpac.ca. This is the final time the Bill will be debated before Parliamentarians vote whether to send it to the Health Committee for further study.

If you would like to help, I encourage you to contact your Member of Parliament, especially if he or she represents the Liberal Party, and ask them to support this legislation. If improvements are necessary they can be made at the Committee stage, but that cannot happen unless MPs support it now.   Please feel free to forward this letter to family and friends.

It is not being melodramatic to say that lives are at stake. Please let your MP know that.


Ziad Aboultaif, MP

Edmonton Manning

Official Opposition Critic for National Revenue



February…come and gone

Posts have been a bit thin here recently. Unfortunately, there is not much to report. I was hoping for something to say for February, but no….

To get more specific, February 2016 marked the third time that I had participated in the Living Donor Paired Exchange (LDPE) program. As you may recall, this is a national program run by Canadian Blood Services, to “mix-and-match” incompatible donor-recipient pairs in order to produce a greater number of compatible living-donor kidney transplants across Canada. Two people are willing to donate to me, but neither is directly compatible. In the ideal scenario, through our participation, one of my donors would donate to someone else and the incompatible would-be donor of that someone else, who happens to be compatible with me, would donate to me.

Three times I have participated in this program, and three times a match has failed to be produced. So, I’m left alone with my thoughts, wondering how long I have to wait. And there is a weightiness to that waiting, too. When I learned about the LDPE program, I initially thought that a match would come in short order. Now, I wonder if it might work for me at all, and I also wonder whether I will have to wait for the rather heavy prospect of anticipating that a suitable donor will come out of the tragedy of someone’s death, who knows how many years from now.

Still, with all the waiting and the accompanying weightiness, I continue to find reasons to be grateful. Etsuko and I were able to get away for a few days and drive down south to a (slightly) warmer climate early in February, and on the way back we stopped in Ohio and visited some old friends from our Japan mission days. We were hosted well, and whether in a hotel or in a friend’s home, I was able to set up my equipment for dialysis as needed. It was a bit of a hassle, but we got it figured out. It’s nice to not be housebound.

So, while I am taught a lesson in patience that I’d rather not experience, I am thankful for the many positive things that persist in my life.

To close off this post, I’m attaching a video of U2’s “40,” a version of Psalm 40, which expresses an attitude of both hopeful waiting and gratitude. It seemed appropriate.


#Video – RMR: Rick’s Rant – Organ Donation

Rick Mercer has ranted about a variety of things over the years. Somehow, I discovered his rant in favour of organ donation just today, even though it came out nearly a year ago. Take a look and let me know what sort of impression it made on you.


Have mercy, been waitin’ for the (transplant) bus…

“Have mercy, been waitin’ for the bus all day.”

I’m in a bit of a mood for some blues today. This month of October was my second time to participate in the Living Donor Paired Exchange (LDPE) program, where a database of incompatible kidney donor-recipient pairs is collected from across Canada in order to find as many matches as possible. Unfortunately, I was again left without a match after the program was run, left still “waitin’ for the (transplant) bus,” as it were.

With two potential incompatible donors on my side, the transplant unit coordinator here in London was confident that a match would be found this time. At this point, all she or I know is that there was no match. She is going to inquire a little further to find out more about why we are striking out. I don’t know that such knowledge will make a huge difference to the next program run in February, but knowledge does provide some solace.

Yes, I’m disappointed, but I began to realize at a more “existential” level last time that it could be years before I get a transplant, even with the wonderful services of the LDPE program. Even with the disappointment, though, I am grateful for my situation. I have reasonably good health otherwise; I have good medical care, which includes the option of peritoneal dialysis; I have my financial needs met; I have a supportive family and community of friends. In many respects, I am blessed.

Not to get overly philosophical here, but one thing that chronic kidney disease reminds me of is that I am not autonomous, I am not independent. I depend on so very many people, from those as near as my family to the medical researcher on the other side of the world who may be discovering a breakthrough in organ transplantation as we speak, and many others in between. Again, I am blessed, and I am grateful.

Grace and peace…

#Video – The Man and the Dog

This is a video produced by DDB Worldwide for the Fundacion Argentina de Trasplante Hepatico (Liver Transplant Foundation Argentina). Watch it and be moved: