On Sept. 26, 2016, just four days after celebrating her 60th birthday, Ucluelet local Deb Kelleher donated her left kidney to a complete and utter stranger.
Her friends hosted a going away party for “Sidney the Kidney”; the name Kelleher lovingly dubbed her organ. They brought her gifts of love, joy and canned kidney beans.
It was a whimsical sendoff to be sure, but in all sincerity, Kelleher’s altruistic gesture triggered a domino chain of kidney transplants that saved seven lives, all on the same day.
“My mom was diagnosed with kidney cancer [in 2013] and I just immediately thought I’d give her one of mine. I didn’t know anything about it. I knew that I have O negative blood so I can give blood to anybody so I figured I can give my kidney to anybody,” Kelleher told the Westerly News over coffee.
“But it turned out my mom didn’t need my kidney. They just took her bad one out. I didn’t take my name off the offering list. Then I was on the internet one day and I just stumbled on this article about the live organ donor program that I went on to. The last little blurb at the end of the article said this dedicated team of surgeons most treasured find is an O type person who will give a kidney and doesn’t need a kidney,” she said.
“I thought well that kind of sounds like me. I have O blood. I have a kidney. I don’t need two. So I phoned them and they sent me a package. That was in March of 2015.”
By Sept. 1, the doctors heading up the Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) program had found a match.
Kelleher said the scariest part of the whole process was navigating Vancouver.
“That was the biggest stress. Getting around in the city. Giving the organ was minor compared to that,” said Kelleher. “I have no regrets. If I had three [kidneys] I would do it again.”
She didn’t care to know who got her kidney. She said she didn’t want to feel obliged to someone and she didn’t want someone to feel obliged to her.
“If you’ve decided to give, that’s as far as you can go as far as thinking,” she said.
Kelleher realizes that organ donation is a very personal decision. While she would never coax someone into donating an organ, she did encourage people to check-in with B.C. Transplant to see if they have registered their decision on the official donor registry.
According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, the median wait time for British Columbians in line for a kidney transplant is 4.8 years. Ucluetian Dave McIntosh, who suffered from polycystic kidney disease, had to wait six years before receiving his new organ in 2009.
“It was like a having a fog in front of you. You don’t think very well,” said McIntosh of his ailment.
Now in his early seventies, the fog has lifted. McIntosh’s health is revived and he is free from the shackles of routine kidney dialysis.
“It’s a miracle,” he said. “The transplant changed my life.”
Kelleher feels different as well.
“My being, my essence has shifted. But a good shift,” she said.
Kelleher bought a special post organ donation bracelet for herself, which she clasp on her left wrist.
The piece of jewellery weighs roughly five-ounces… The same weight as a healthy kidney.