If you are a regular here, you know that we have been following Stephen Gillis, a Vancouver minor hockey coach, for the past few weeks.
He went through his final hemo-dialysis treatment on Monday and underwent a kidney transplant on Tuesday at Vancouver General Hospital, his good friend Michael Teigen giving up one of his kidneys.
Gillis updated us with a Wednesday evening post on Facebook:
“The transplant was beyond successful. The kidney is working perfectly. For my first steps with three kidneys I went to see my hero, Michael, and thank him. He is doing very well and will hopefully go home in the next day or so.
“I will be monitored till the weekend in hospital then home for more recovery. Had an ultrasound (Wednesday) afternoon where I saw the kidney inside me. The human body and what we can do with it is absolutely amazing.
“I can’t believe this all happened and I am beyond grateful to Michael, Dr. Dave the surgeon and his staff, VGH transplant floor nursing staff, VGH Nephrology team, and all of you for your endless support.
“Thankful that my love Dany has never left my side through all of this, and my best friend since we were kids, Keith, made it all the way from Cape Breton to be here for me. Thankful that Michael’s beautiful partner Denise and their best friend (who filled out the donor application), Diana, could be here to support him and be by his side. I feel we are all so lucky. Thank you!”
Yes, Gillis now has three kidneys in his body. As he added to his post in response to a query: “They leave the failed ones dormant and just add the new one. It lives in my left pelvis.”
In a response to that, another transplant recipient wrote: “You have three kidneys for now but after transplant your native kidneys shrink and shrivel up. You can’t even see mine on ultrasound anymore!”
My wife, Dorothy, was born with one kidney, although we didn’t find that out until 1981. When that discovery was made, we also learned that her one kidney was malformed and was losing efficiency. When she had her transplant on Sept. 23, 2019, the deformed kidney was left in place, on the left side of her torso, with the new one going in on the right side.
Gillis’s new kidney, which used to belong to Teigen, also went in on the right side.
If you wonder what it’s like for someone who is staring at a kidney transplant and watching as the date for surgery quickly approaches, well, Stephen Gillis is providing a look into what he is going through.
Gillis, who coaches a minor hockey team in Vancouver, is scheduled for a transplant on Tuesday at Vancouver General Hospital, with a friend, Michael Teigan, as the donor. You may be aware that Gillis’s hockey team put together a video a while back as part of the search for a donor.
With Transplant Day drawing ever closer, Gillis’s Facebook posts provide some insight into his thoughts and feelings . . .
“With one week till our kidney transplant, my donor Michael’s awesome girlfriend and my dear friend, Denise, held a ‘Kidney Relocation Party’ with some of Michael’s dearest friends.
“Van Minor Atom A1 parents and players, who have gone above and beyond supporting us, gave Michael some amazing gifts including a t-shirt and card made by our awesome manager, Tara Rodas, and personal cards from each player and a lovely donation to Michael’s recovery time.
“Friends were tasked to bring kidney-related items to the party, which included cooking lamb kidney (which is the only kidney I hope to reject), an original 19-page Kidney screenplay, poems, and an unbelievable kidney donation-themed rendition of ‘The Downeaster Alexa’ by Billy Joel. A special night with special people.
“Thank you to all who have supported our journey together and know that you too can be a hero by registering to be an organ donor to save a life one day. It takes 30 seconds, www.register.transplant.bc.ca.
Later came another post . . .
“(Wednesday) was a special day for Michael & I as we march toward Transplant Tuesday.
We had a lovely interview with the great Robin Gill (that will run on) Global National news on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 5:30 p.m., and then will also run on Global BC’s morning show with our friends @paulyhays & @soniasunger. Thanks to Global News for their continued support of our story and raising awareness for organ donation and the Kidney Foundation of BC & Yukon.
“We also, surprisingly, ran into our transplant surgeon Dr. Dave, who is an absolute beauty. ‘We are going to make sure you are both okay and by 4 p.m. Tuesday it will all be over.’
“I am starting to feel calm for the first time in years. Literally, service dogs run up to me lately as they can tell my energy. The only time the worry leaves me is when I am at the rink with the kids, until Dr. Dave gave me our pre-game talk. I think I am finally ready to let go and have this miracle happen.
“Check out our interview Sunday evening on @globaltv and please consider becoming an organ donor and have the conversation with your family. Know you don’t have to be a living donor, just think: Do you really need to take anything with you when you go on the next part of your journey on the other side?“
Gillis and Teigan also were to be busy on Saturday night.
As Gillis, who spent Friday night at WWE Smackdown in Vancouver, posted:
“Michael and I will be on stage for a very special Kidney/Organ Donation-themed Vancouver Theatre Sports show at 9:30 p.m. at the Improv Centre.
“Please consider coming out and laughing with us and possibly donating to The Kidney Foundation of Canada, BC & Yukon Branch.”
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
This year, BC Transplant will award two $1000 scholarships to Gr 12 students who lead an organ donation awareness project in their school or community during April 2020. Help us spread the word by sharing this post and telling everyone in your circle! https://t.co/VadCztXUHcpic.twitter.com/lYPoDXCfIi
SMASHING RECORDS: In 2019, Ontario set NEW records with 1,386 organ transplants and 684 deceased and living organ donors – a 13% increase over the previous year. Read more about this record breaking year in our news release: https://t.co/ULv2f2fdmQpic.twitter.com/WM2kvYctQ2
The Trillium Gift of Life Network reports that the province of Ontario set a record for organ donations and transplants in 2019. . . . All told, organs from 684 deceased and living donors resulted in 1,386 transplants. . . . One of the reasons for the increases is that donors who in times past wouldn’t have been eligible because of one medical condition or another now are able to donate because of medical advancements. From a news release: “Transplants of healthy and suitable organs from donors with hepatitis C, for example, can now safely occur, expanding the pool of potential donors and decreasing wait times for recipients on the list.” . . . Jessica Patton of Global News has more right here.
IN THE NEWS! 📰📣 UC research could help identify organ donors at risk of developing kidney disease. https://t.co/vVwOv5assI
Trevor Weisgerber has some catching up to do, and he hardly can wait.
Weisgerber can’t remember the last time he sat down with his wife, Laurren, and two children — London, 7, and Ty, 4 — to watch a movie and actually was awake for the end.
That’s what happens when you are dealing with kidney disease.
These days, though, Weisgerber, in his first season as head coach the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, is a couple of weeks removed from having a kidney transplant, and he’s feeling like a new man.
In a conversation with Weisgerber from his Moose Jaw home on Monday, he recalled life in the years before the transplant:
“You’re gone all day working and running around and doing what you do. I would take the kids to hockey, be on the ice as much as possible at their practices, but as soon as I came home, my heart rate would go down . . . instantly sleeping.
“We would watch a movie . . . I’d be lucky if I got through the introductions. In the last two years, I don’t think I’ve seen more than a quarter through a movie.”
When I spoke with him, he was 15 days removed from the transplant and his voice was vibrating with energy and enthusiasm.
“It’s definitely life-changing,” he said. “I’m only two weeks in but I can tell the difference already.
“I feel better after two weeks than I have the last two years. It’s incredible . . . absolutely incredible.”
Weisgerber, 40, has known for 11 years that he had a rare kidney disease known as Mucin-1, which has run rampant through one side of his family.
“It goes through our whole family . . . one Grandpa and his siblings . . . through all their families. It’s pretty crazy,” Weisgerber said. “There’s not a lot they can do right now, but I’m hoping with more testing that they can figure out something for our kids or even our kids’ kids.”
Weisgerber, a native of Vibank, Sask., was a point-producer during his playing days, which included stops with the Beardy’s Rage and Yorkton Terriers in the SJHL, three seasons at Lake Superior State U, and seven seasons in the now-defunct Central league.
(If you run a Google search for ‘Trevor Weisgerber hit’, you will find the above YouTube video of a concussion-inducing check that left Weisgerber unconscious and ultimately ended his playing career.)
It was while Weisgerber was in the CHL with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees that he found out he had Mucin-1. During his preseason physical it was discovered that his creatinine level was abnormally high. Creatinine is a waste product that is the result of normal muscle use. The kidneys filter the creatinine from the blood and pass it into the urine.
“I ended up getting a biopsy done and they said that I had it,” he said. “I monitored it from then on.”
At that time, his glomerular filtration rate (GFR) was in the 55 range. GFR is the best way to measure kidney function. For instance, my wife, Dorothy, began peritoneal dialysis (PD) when her GFR reached 10. She had a transplant on Sept. 23, 2013 and her GFR now is in the mid- to high-60s.
Weisgerber’s kidney function kept declining until April 2018 when he ended up on PD.
“My kidney function was around five or six,” he recalled, “so they said I needed to do that.”
Kidney patients on PD hook up to a machine called a cycler for about eight hours at home every night. In short, the cycler drains toxins from the body through the use of fluids.
The cycler now is in Weisgerber’s past and he couldn’t be happier.
“Obviously, a guy is going to be on medications for the rest of his life, and they can cause complications,” Weisgerber said. “But just to be able to live a normal life and not have to hook up to that machine . . . just the routine of having to go to bed at a certain time and having to be on that machine for eight hours, and hooking it up . . . just little things that you don’t realize.
“Before I got the transplant, I was super itchy from all the toxins; it was crazy. The most uncomfortable . . . just so, so itchy. One of the biggest things is that I don’t have that itching anymore.”
In Weisgerber’s case, it was hoped that PD would be beneficial and keep him going until later this year because a cousin was going through testing in the hopes of being a living donor.
However, PD wasn’t being as effective as it had been, which brings us to Jan. 25.
Weisgerber’s daughter, London, was playing in a hockey tournament and he was in the penalty box, running the clock. All of a sudden his phone rang; it was a number from Saskatoon. He didn’t answer it. It rang again. He still didn’t answer. When it rang a third time, he decided that it might be a good idea to see who was calling.
Well, it was Dr. Abubaker Hassan, a nephrologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon.
“Dr. Hassan said, ‘We have a kidney for you. . . . we need you up in Saskatoon,’ ” Weisgerber said. “It was like, holy moly.
“It was really unexpected. You’re scared; you don’t know what to expect. I have an uncle who had gone through it three years ago. He filled me in on everything but, still, you don’t know what to expect.”
When the call ended, Weisgerber went home, packed and headed for Saskatoon. He had surgery the next day.
“Everything went really well,” he said, noting that he spent 10 days in hospital before returning home. For now, he will visit Regina or Saskatoon once a week for bloodwork and checkups.
Weisgerber understands that his new kidney came from a “younger gentleman in Edmonton” who had died. The Weisgerbers will be in touch with the deceased donor’s family, something that is done, at least in the beginning, through a case worker.
Weisgerber plans on writing a letter, while Ty and London “are making pictures and everything.”
“We’re just super fortunate,” he said. “I’m just excited that a guy can live his life again and be somewhat normal here. They say it helps with their healing process, too. The whole thing is emotional.
“Obviously, it isn’t good that a person passed away. But it’s good that he was an organ donor and he does give a life.”
During the process leading up to a transplant involving a deceased donor, the recipient is told that there may well be a feeling of guilt because he/she actually is benefitting from someone else’s death.
Weisgerber said that hasn’t bothered him, but that “it does get a guy emotional, that you’re that fortunate to be able to be a match to that person . . . that he was an organ donor and he pretty much gave a guy a new chance at life.”
These days, Weisgerber’s focus is on getting on with his life, which means looking after a few rental properties and a return to his hockey team. As of Monday, he had missed three games; he expects to miss four more as the Warriors finish their regular season.
Transplant recipients take anti-rejection medications for the remainder of their lives, something that compromises their immune systems. As a result, Weisgerber has been told that it might not be a good idea for him to be in a dressing room or on a bus, at least not in the early days as his system adjusts to the changes.
“The plan is to be back for playoffs at the end of the month,” he said. “The way things are going and the way I feel I can’t see why I wouldn’t be. I’m really looking forward to getting back with the guys and having a long playoff run here.”
The Warriors (29-10-1), who were in first place for a lot of the season, were second in the 12-team league, two points behind the Regina Pat Canadians (29-7-5) and three ahead of the Saskatoon Contacts (27-13-2). Moose Jaw also went 5-1-1 at the Mac’s tournament in Calgary, where they dropped a 6-2 decision to the Calgary Buffaloes on New Year’s Day.
In terms of Weisgerber’s schedule, the surgery couldn’t have been scheduled at a better time. As he said: “It was absolutely perfect. It’s actually incredible that it happened then.”
The Warriors had 10 days off while he was away and his primary business — Epic Hockey — doesn’t start a new cycle until July when he begins working with midget AAA, junior and professional players who are preparing for new seasons. He also runs skill development camps, spring teams and conditioning camps for minor hockey players. During hockey seasons, he often travels to smaller communities to work with minor programs.
That all began after he spent one season as an assistant coach with the SJHL’s Kindersley Klippers and two (2010-12) as an assistant with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
It was after his stint in the WHL that he started Epic Hockey.
Now, with a renewed energy level, he can hardly wait to get back on the ice.
“You don’t really realize how you feel,” he said. “I was super tired all the time, didn’t have a lot of energy. You would work and do stuff but at the end of the day, as soon as you sat down, you’d be falling asleep. You always felt blah.
“You just do what you do. You don’t realize how bad you actually feel and how tired you actually are.”
And now when he’s at home, you can bet there will be more family movie nights, although Laurren, London and Ty will have to forgive him if he asks for flicks they’ve already seen.
These days, he promises to stay awake for the entire show.
If you are a regular here, you will be aware that Dorothy, my wife of 47 years, underwent a kidney transplant on Sept. 23, 2013.
If you’re not, well, here’s the story . . .
We will be forever grateful to the two people most responsible for what really has been a
new lease on life. Dorothy’s best friend, who has been a bestie for a long, long time, was convinced from the outset that she would be the donor. However, as it turned out, she wasn’t a match for Dorothy.
Still, she wanted to make sure that Dorothy got a new kidney. So they both went into the Living Kidney Donor Program. And that is how Dorothy came to get a new kidney.
Her best friend, who has never wanted attention for what she did, gave a kidney to a stranger, but on the condition that Dorothy get one from someone else, which is what happened. We don’t know who got the friend’s kidney; we don’t know who was Dorothy’s donor.
But as far as Dorothy is concerned, her best friend was her donor.
What has a new kidney meant for Dorothy?
For starters, it got her off dialysis. She had done peritoneal dialysis (PD) for four years prior to the transplant.
It also meant that she was here for the birth of her first grandchild — Kara. She lives with her father, our son Todd, and his wife, Joanna, in Burnaby.
It also has allowed Dorothy to experience, among so many other things, the joy of four Christmases with an energetic and oh, so happy Kara.
Dorothy plays piano by ear and really loves it. She volunteers at a seniors’ residence in Kamloops and often is asked to play piano there. Her love for the piano has meant that her granddaughter has twice received small ones for Christmas, including a toy miniature grand this time around.
What I am trying to say through this meandering message is this: I would hope that you would at least consider being a live kidney donor. The difference such a decision could make in another person’s life is incalculable.
Remember that a transplant isn’t a cure for kidney disease. There quite simply isn’t a cure. Still, a transplant is nothing short of a miracle for the recipient.
Yes, Dorothy and I experienced a miracle more than six years ago and we are thankful every day.
So, please, at least think about it.
There are a lot of people out there who are waiting and hoping. They awaken every single day and wonder if this will be the day they get THE phone call . . . a match has been found . . . there’s a date for surgery . . . the load has started to lift.
People like Zach Tremblay, a 16-year-old from Robson, B.C., which is across the Columbia River from Castlegar. Zach now spends more than half of every day doing dialysis.
On Saturday, Zach’s mother, Jana, posted this update on Facebook:
“As 2019 draws to a close, and we enter the 5th year of dialysis, I can’t help but be a little sad we are still waiting. So many shares, so many messages from people asking how to be tested, and no matches so far.
“2019 was rough on him. September’s scare and hospital stay being especially trying, and bringing about many changes in his energy level, anxiety and, in turn, his therapy.
“He now does 14 hours of therapy a day. So he spends more than half his 24-hour day doing dialysis. No 16-year-old should be spending the majority of his time doing this.
“Please share his story far and wide and as often as possible and help us make 2020 HIS year.
“May 2020 bring nothing but great things to you all . . . and as always, we appreciate each and every one of you for staying on the ride and loving and supporting our boy and our family.”
(I wrote about Zach in October, and you can find that piece right here.)
Joan Alexander, a friend of Jana’s, followed with this:
“As my two-year anniversary as an anonymous kidney donor gets closer, I am beginning a social media blitz to get Zachary Tremblay the kidney he needs!
“My journey began because of Jana Tremblay’s posts about organ donation. As the mother of two healthy sons, I immediately was drawn into this family’s story. Although I was not able to donate to Zach directly, I decided to donate anonymously and someone in British Columbia became my recipient.
“How can you help? Share this post, make (the accompanying two-year-old) photo of Zach your profile pic, learn more (call the St. Paul’s Living Donor Program), get tested, say a prayer or make a wish . . . all of this and more will help.
“It is no small thing to donate an organ. But I would do it again in a heartbeat if I could! Message me if you would like to talk.
“Zach now is 16 years old. He is hooked up to dialysis 14 hours each and every day.”
As we prepare to head into a new year, it would be terrific if it really became a year to remember for people like Jana and Zach Tremblay and their family.
If you are interested in more information, here you go:
Vic Morin is a regular at our Kamloops Kidney Support Group meetings and has become a good friend. He was with us on Sept. 11, just last week, when he informed us that he was soon to begin peritoneal dialysis. With that in mind, he was to have had a catheter surgically implanted into his peritoneal cavity on Sept. 25.
But, when you have kidney disease, things are out of your control and can change in a hurry. On Thursday night, his wife, Colleen Bruce, made an emotional plea on Facebook:
SEPTEMBER 19, 2019 — It’s been close to 8 months since I first posted our story in search of a living kidney donor for my husband, Vic.
At the time of the posting, Vic’s kidney function (GFR) was holding at 19, but over the next few months it began to drop quickly. On Wednesday, he had his regular monthly lab work and he now is at 6. Today (Thursday) was a very emotional day as we got a call from the Kamloops Kidney Clinic advising that Vic was in kidney failure and needs to start emergency hemo dialysis tomorrow (Friday).
He was scheduled for surgery next week to place a catheter into his peritoneal cavity (lower abdomen) so he could start peritoneal dialysis within a month after the healing was complete; unfortunately, his kidneys can’t wait that long and now he will have a central line inserted into his neck so he can start on the hemo-dialysis tomorrow.
I know dialysis will help but it is only a temporary solution like a Band-Aid is to a wound; what Vic desperately needs is another kidney. I have seen the immense drop in his energy level over the past few months. His zest for life is slowly disappearing as he knows he is slowly getting sicker and sicker.
As I am typing this tonight, I have tears running down my face as it breaks my heart because I know I can’t give him the one thing that will make him better — a new kidney.
I’m once again reaching out to anyone and everyone that I can in search of a living kidney for my beautiful husband.
When we were down at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver at the end of April to the meet the kidney transplant team, we were reminded by one of the doctors that kidney donors live a long and healthy life with just one kidney. They are thoroughly screened before the transplant and they will only proceed if the donor is healthy and if there are no risks to him/her.
Once they have donated their kidney, they are continually being monitored over the years and if any other unrelated health ailments arise such as, say, cancer or heart disease, it will be diagnosed earlier than the average person because they are being medically checked regularly and may have a stronger chance of overcoming the disease as it was caught early.
I’m hoping and praying that someone out there can give my husband the beautiful lifesaving gift of a kidney so he can have a long and healthy life. My original posting is shown below and it has all the information if someone choses to come forward and start the process of kidney donation. Thank you each and everyone for taking the time to read this UPDATE and once again, please “Share” our story so we have a strong chance of finding a living kidney donor.
January 24, 2019
Dear Family and Friends:
This is a difficult post for me to write, but I truly need your help. My husband’s kidney is failing and he is in desperate need of a kidney donor.
My wonderful husband Vic was diagnosed with CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) more than five years ago and he has been monitored by doctors and nurses at the Kamloops Kidney Clinic, who have been extremely supportive over the years.
His kidney function, however, has been declining and he now is facing the reality of kidney failure. I have seen changes in him — tiredness, lack of interest in activities we both used to enjoy, and depression.
While dialysis is one option that can help short-term, it is not a cure. The average time on dialysis is five years, before total kidney failure. Our best option for him to have a long and healthy life is a live kidney transplant.
Vic completed his testing and is a good candidate. I completed all the testing to see if I was a good candidate for becoming a kidney donor, but unfortunately a call on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 from St. Paul’s Hospital informed me I am unable to become a kidney donor because of my own health issues. It was a very emotional phone call. I now had to tell my beautiful husband I could not be his saviour. We both hoped I could be a donor for him, but that is not the case.
Now, I am desperately reaching out to as many friends and family online as I can in search of that kidney, which he needs so badly. We are hoping and praying someone will come forward and consider becoming Vic’s kidney donor. The more who come forward for testing, the better his chances for a match will be.
Doctors indicate that kidney donors live a normal and healthy long life with just one kidney. Donors are carefully medically screened to make sure it is safe for them to donate. The transplant team makes the donor’s health and well-being a priority before and after donation. We understand donors don’t have to be a relative or be an exact blood match in order to donate. We understand this is an extremely personal decision and there is a lot to think about.
If you would like more information or to explore kidney donation further, feel free to contact the donor nurse coordinator at St. Paul’s Hospital by calling 604-806-9027 (1-877-922-9822) or by emailing email@example.com.
Vic’s legal name is Louis Victor Morin. If you call and they ask who the recipient will be, give them that name. Please know your inquiry, as well as the process for determining your eligibility as a donor, would all be kept confidential. St. Paul’s runs a very professional donor program and we will never be told if anyone has expressed interest in donating a kidney (unless you tell us of course).
Donors may change their mind at any time, even on the day of the transplant.
Thank you for letting me share Vic’s medical situation with you.