We frequently hear about lives saved by organs from deceased donors, but far less about a quiet but remarkable group: live donors.
Breckenridge’s Alain David is in his first week of recovery after having his left kidney removed and given to a total stranger whom he will never meet. This decision to undergo the operation was not a spontaneous one.
“I’ve had this on my bucket list for six, seven years,” he explained. "Laureen Bureau, a kidney recipient herself and volunteer for the Canadian Kidney Foundation asked me if she could talk to my classes [at Grande Riviere high school in Aylmer] about organ donation. She has been coming every year since, […] so I’ve heard the presentation about 30 times. One day I said, you know what, I am going to walk the talk. In Quebec alone, there are so many people who die while on the waiting list, while on dialysis. It was something that got to me.”
At the end of 2015, there were 856 people seeking a donor in Quebec; 613 of whom needed a kidney. During the year, 40 people died waiting.
Last week, David was the first of four live donors who underwent surgery.
“I feel like I got run over by a truck, but it’s easier for the recipient,” he said. “The new kidney is actually placed by the bladder in the front of the recipient’s body so they have to be very careful for the rest of their life. My remaining kidney will grow about 10 per cent to compensate for the missing one. When possible, you always give the left kidney because the tube that drains the urine from the kidney to the bladder is slightly longer; it gives them a little bit more to work with.”
David’s kidney was tested for health over a five month period. During this time, other donors and recipients were being identified. People who wish to donate to a family member but are not a match, are encouraged to act as a live donor for someone else and so a chain of donors and recipients is built.
David lost 45 pounds to be in the best possible shape for his surgery. “The doctor told me the healthier, you are the less pain you’ll be in and the faster you’ll heal,” he said.
Devising a 4.6 km route along a series of back roads near his house, David walked the distance to the Olympic Stadium in Montreal in 49 outings and returned in another 49.
After that, he traced lumber baron Philemon Wright’s path in reverse by walking 700 km from Hull from Woburn, Mass., requiring 155 outings.
“After the first time, I got so good at it I walked the route twice the day,” he said. “Once I was in Woburn, I decided to go to Monmouth, Ill., because that is where Wyatt Earp is from, a childhood hero of mine. This journey is approximately 1,885 km so I stepped up my distances to 18.4km a day. I stopped the day before my operation with 30 outings to go.”
David intends to resume his trip to Monmouth as soon as he is able.
He was recently invited to take part in a National Advisory Panel on the living organ donation program in Toronto, where he plans to call for more information, encouragement and support for live donations.
“Everyone thinks this [my donation] is heroic… [but] the nurses and doctors that deal with transplant patients every day, they are the heroes,” he stated. “The people on the waiting list and on dialysis, they are the heroes. I am just a pawn that helped set some wheels in motion.”
David considered his donation simply as “the right thing to do."
"Just hearing about this, every year, I wondered:' how come there are not more people doing this?'" he pondered. "Through these presentations, I met people who had given a kidney who now run marathons; who lead normal lives. I thought, if they can do it, I could do it as well.”
David hopes that through this story, people will understand the critical need for organ donors.
“I understand that being a live donor is scary,” he conceded. “But if you just sign your healthcare card, you could save eight lives with your organs and improve 40 lives with other parts of your body after your death. That’s the message I strongly want to get across.”