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Monday, May 01, 2017

I Donated One of My Kidneys

Reflecting on organ donation: a letter from Robin TeKamp
April 23rd will forever be a memorable day for our family filled with many mixed emotions.  Ten years ago, in April of 2007, I donated one of my kidneys to my father, Ben.  

Unfortunately, my father passed away two years ago but he was able to live almost 8 years after the transplant with a much healthier and improved quality of life.

My father started experiencing complications from diabetes in 2004.  His kidneys had both failed by 2005 and he had to start hemodialysis treatments.  Our family would take turns driving my father to Ottawa every 2 days for his dialysis treatments.  

At the same time my father started dialysis treatments, he also joined the long list of people waiting for a kidney transplant.  We were told that the wait for a donor would be at least 5 years or more.  Many people die each year waiting for a kidney transplant and my father’s health issues would make that long wait difficult.  After being told by that his long-term prognosis was not favourable, I quietly started the process of being screened to be a kidney donor.

Donated kidneys come from one of two sources: deceased donors and living donors.  Almost half of kidneys donated in Canada come from a living donor.  Kidneys donated from living donors offer much better health outcomes and are a life-saving alternative to the long, uncertain wait list.  A kidney transplant was my father’s best treatment option.  After a transplant, you can continue to live a full life without dialysis.  

The process of being screened to be a kidney donor is extensive and lengthy.  It is meant to protect the donor’s health as much as the recipient’s.   Our situation was complicated in that I was a not only a primary caregiver to my father and learning about how his life would be different as a transplant recipient but was secretly completing pre-transplant baseline testing as my father was reluctant to accept a kidney from his family.  After many months, much discussion and research, he finally accepted the idea of a living donor.  We were deemed to be a compatible match and the surgeries were scheduled.

We were both very well cared for at the Ottawa Hospital before and after the transplant surgery.  Doctors told us that the transplant was a success, with minimal complications and the kidney worked immediately.  After the transplant, my father was placed on anti-rejection medications and he was monitored on a frequent basis for rejection and his general medical health.  As a donor, you are also regularly followed by Nephrology for your overall health and are monitored for risk factors in developing kidney disease for the rest of your life.   Despite the recovery time following the kidney transplant, giving this gift of life and independence to my father is one that I am very proud of.

I remember coming out of surgery and having my father tell me he loved me and he thanked me for giving him his life back.  It was only one of the many times that my father would share how grateful he was for the transplant but it was the defining moment for me in that I now knew I had made the right decision for donation and saving my father’s life. 

My dad gave me the gift of life by creating me, so I chose to give the gift of life back to him. Even though he is no longer with our family, I cherish those extra, precious years we were able to spend with him thanks to the gift of organ donation.

A kidney transplant can be a positive, liberating, and life-changing experience.  My family learned firsthand how important organ donation can be.  You are literally saving lives… please consider talking to your family about organ and tissue donation and registering online at www.BeADonor.ca/BrockvilleGeneralHospital.  

Signed,
Robin TeKamp

Robin is a social worker with the Brockville General Hospital’s Mental Health team and an advocate for the Trillium Gift of Life Network program. 

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