Couple Encourage Organ Donation After Wife Donates Kidney To Husband
FERGUS – The Hunters will struggle to top the gift his wife Shelly gave him for their 35th birthdayand birthday, but thanks to the gift, he has a lifetime to try.
Shelly donated a kidney to Les and now they are both getting their lives back.
Les has polycystic kidney disease, which is a condition where clusters of cysts develop in the kidney. The cysts grow and eventually stop the kidney from working.
It’s hereditary – his father died of it at 67; his siblings have it though to a lesser degree; and one of their sons also has the condition.
For Les, 60, that meant four years tied to a dialysis machine with a health outcome that would only get worse.
For Shelly, 61, who is attached to the man attached to the machine, that means managing the logistics – cleaning the home dialysis machine, ordering supplies and making sure Les gets the treatment he needs.
“He’s on the machine, but it’s us,” Shelly said. “If he can’t travel, I can’t travel. Our life has been centered around dialysis.
The Hunters were living in Campbellford, near Peterborough, when Les suddenly felt weak and short of breath after cutting the grass.
“We knew the dialysis was coming, but that was it,” he said in an interview from the couple’s Fergus home on April 2.
They went to the hospital and learned that they could do hemodialysis at home, so that’s what they chose to do, rather than going to a dialysis clinic.
Although easier at home in many ways, it took eight weeks of training to learn how to use the machine, clean it and hook it up properly.
The Hunters moved to Fergus in 2020 and Les was transferred to Grand River Hospital in Kitchener for treatment.
He still opted for home dialysis, but it required further training because the equipment was different.
In the meantime, Les has been put on a transplant list.
“I was being tested and then COVID hit,” Shelly said.
“Because of that, it took two years. But in October (of 2021), they told us that we were compatible. Then we had to wait for an appointment.
They got a call in February of this year saying they were on the cancellation list, and then finally, on March 25, doctors at Toronto General Hospital transplanted a healthy kidney from Shelly to Les.
Shelly said she did some soul-searching when she decided to donate her kidney.
Although blood relatives are more likely to be compatible, both of Les’s siblings have the disease and are therefore not candidates for donation.
And Les didn’t want any of his children to donate a kidney to him. With a son diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, the other children’s good kidneys may one day be needed by their brother.
“At first, I didn’t know if I should continue. Who would take care of us? Shelly wondered aloud.
“But I have no hesitation. Why would I?”
People only need one functioning kidney to live, she said, and the risk for it is the same as with any other surgery.
The new kidney will extend Les’s life by 17 to 20 years, and if that kidney fails again, he can resume dialysis.
Les said his kidneys were working at 8% when he started dialysis four years ago and had dropped to 6% the day before the operation.
A week after the operation, he was functioning at 51%, he said.
Les will still have to take medication, and her autoimmunity will still be suppressed, so her body won’t reject the new kidney. And both of them will have to calm down while their incisions heal.
But the dialysis machine in their basement – as big as a furnace – can go back to the hospital for someone else to use.
They can go to the chalet for more than two days. And Les could return to curling and other activities he loved.
But their big message is about organ donation.
“Sign up to donate your organs,” he said. “We’re all full of spares and when you’re dead you don’t need any. And it really changes people’s lives.
And when it comes to kidneys, you only need one functioning kidney to live, he said.
“If you want to donate, they’ll put you in touch” with someone who needs a transplant, Les said. “I have mine but there are thousands waiting.”
The Trillium Gift of Life Network, responsible for coordinating transplants and organ and tissue donations, adopted a new way to register in 2008.
You no longer sign a donor card with your driver’s license, as paper donor cards are often not available when needed. Donors can now register online at www.BeADonor.ca or in person at any Service Ontario location.
According to the network, 90% of people say they are in favor of organ donation but only 35% have registered.
And with advances in transplant medicine, living donations are now possible for kidneys, part of the liver, lungs, small intestine and pancreas.
“So many good things can come from organ donation,” Les said. “I hope people will think about it.”
For more information, visit www.giftoflife.on.ca.