Kelowna resident Traude Robertson looks upon reaching her 70s as making it to the final chapter of her life.
But in deciding to become a kidney donor, she has given a new start to someone else.
“I never had children of my own, so the opportunity for me to give another human being a new lease on life is something I wanted to do,” said Robertson, who underwent a transplant surgery in March.
The inspiration to make that decision evolved from a story Robertson read in the Kelowna Capital News about kidney organ donation, which told the personal story of Kelowna resident Dustin Burnham.
Burnham, 36, received a kidney transplant donated by his grandmother in 2000 at age 18 after struggling with kidney disease for much of his youth, but he was put back on the transplant list after an auto immune disease attacked his transplanted kidney.
“I read the story over and over about what Dustin was going through. It really inspired me. And the photo with the story of Dustin with his mom just made me feel I need to do something to help him,” she recalled.
Robertson contacted Burnham and the two struck up a friendship that continues today. Tests revealed that Robertson’s kidney wasn’t a match, so they pursued another option by registering in the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s living donor paired exchange program, which facilitates living kidney donations between patients with a willing but incompatible donor and other pairs in the same situation.
If two people aren’t a direct match, then a third person is sought to enable two incompatible recipients to receive healthy, more comparable kidneys.
“We had been in that program for a year and no match had still been found. At that point I went out for dinner with Dustin and we talked about whether to give it another six months or a year, or should I just go ahead on my own and go on the open donor list because of my age and the reality I’m not getting any younger,” Robertson said.
“He is a very courageous person and he told me if I can help someone else now I should do that.”
With Burnham’s blessing, she volunteered her kidney for other needy recipients and match was found soon after, with the transplant surgery taking place at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
“You might think the surgery is routine, but there is nothing routine about it as each person is quite different in how they respond. I was very impressed how the surgery was done and the double and triple checking that goes on,” she said.
“I feel marvellous and great. The second day after the surgery I was walking out the hospital door,” she said.
Since returning home mere days after the surgery, Robertson said her main concern is to not do any heavy lifting for awhile. Within two to three months, she expects to be completely back to her usual self.
Robertson doesn’t know who the recipient of her kidney is, and doesn’t have a desire to know at this point.
“I gave another human being on this earth a new lease on life. That’s good enough for me. I have choice to put it in the record so if that person down the road feels compelled to meet me, I would not want to deny them that.
“I just feel a little time should pass before that might happen. For now, time should be given to make sure the kidney transplant will work.”
Meanwhile, her friend continues to wait for a kidney donor match, and she hopes sharing her experience will encourage someone else to become a kidney donor, and perhaps be a match for Dustin.
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