This is the second in a two-part series on kidney disease, featuring Lisa Ellis and her cousin and living kidney donor, Brian Nimmo. Part one was published on March 25. A link is available at the bottom of this story.
The “old Lisa” is back, just as she had hoped and prayed for.
From the moment her new kidney was placed in her body, on March 12 at Vancouver General Hospital, it started doing its job.
The kidney was a gift from her cousin and lifelong friend, Brian Nimmo. Both are recovering well, with Brian back home in Grande Cache and Lisa now back in Chilliwack. She has been sharing updates through her journey with her friends and family on Facebook, and as an employee at The Chilliwack Progress, she has enthusiastically agreed to share her story with the wider community.
Brian and Lisa have been checking in regularly with each other over the phone; Fridays are their official day to celebrate their surgeries each week. And looking back, it all started with a phone call, too.
One day not long ago, Brian asked Lisa a few very important questions.
“You still looking for a kidney?” Yes, of course, she answered.
“Would you take mine?” he countered.
The answer was a quick: “Hell, yes!”
Initially Lisa thought Brian was just being conversational. Within moments she realized that he was more than mentally prepared to give his kidney, he had already been physically preparing. He had been through preliminary tests already, and cleared to donate.
One of the required steps for a living kidney donor is to ask their recipient if they would accept their kidney. And this was that critical question.
So just like that, 21 years into her journey with chronic kidney disease (CKD) Lisa was that much closer to her “new lease on life,” and she was moved beyond measure. This didn’t just mean she would have a longer life to live, it would mean more time with her family, and most importantly she says, her young grandson, Stirling.
Her prayers had been answered.
She explains that when you have CKD, a lot of people say they would be happy to donate their kidney, and all are well-intentioned. But not many follow through with the testing, for various reasons, and even fewer are able to donate or are a successful match.
It can be such a difficult topic to broach, that some kidney disease patients don’t even bother asking.
They can be afraid of the surgery, or be lacking information about the transplant process. They could be concerned about the effects of surgery on their donor, or inconveniencing someone or impacting them financially.
Others may feel indebted or like they don’t deserve a living kidney.
Some are just too worried about ruining a relationship simply by asking, while some fear the answer “no.”
Guilt, fear, hesitation all keep people from connecting with a donor. But Brian didn’t have a doubt in his mind that it was the right thing to do.
“It’s a personal decision and a lot of things lined up well for me, and for Lisa as well,” he says. He doesn’t have a young family to provide for anymore, and has the ability to take the time needed off work for the surgery and recovery time.
But he says it was his and Lisa’s shared childhood years that really made the decision easy. Lisa’s mother had CKD, and went through a successful transplant around 1975. This was the early days of non-twin transplants in Canada – the first successful non-twin transplant took place about a decade earlier.
“I was a bit more amenable to it because her mother, my aunt Jean, was one of the pioneers of the transplants,” Brian explains. “And because she was able to get a transplant that early in her life.”
He also was pleased to be able to donate in his 60s, and he’s heard of people doing the same in their 70s.
“That was another plus to the check mark list,” he adds.
And when it was all over, their surgeon both told them the same thing. That by Brian donating to Lisa, he not only sacrificed a kidney, but he took her off the list of people waiting for a cadaver (deceased donor) kidney.
Now, Brian is well into his recovery days and enjoying walking his dogs and taking care of things around the house. His follow up includes regular kidney function tests to make sure his one remaining kidney is doing well.
“I’m going to take good care of it,” he says of his right kidney.
And Lisa says the same of her one kidney, nicknamed Lefty. And she hopes this is the end of their family’s long story with CKD.
“I’m praying it ends with me,” she says.
Kidney Foundation Canada says registering only takes a few minutes through the various provincial registries. One registered organ donor could help up to eight people.
You only need to register once in a lifetime but a decal on your driver’s license is no longer enough to ensure you’re registered as an organ donor.
In B.C., register your wishes online through: register.transplant.bc.ca.
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