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.
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.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a parent to a youngster with kidney disease? Here’s an emotional posting from Lindsey Backmeyer of Kamloops, whose daughter, Ferris, 3, is in need of a transplant and continues to do daily peritoneal dialysis at home:
“So it’s pretty official and looking like Ferris will be listed on a deceased donor list in early March!!
“I can’t accurately put into words how that makes me feel but I’ll try. I go from being so sick of dialysis and ready for a better life to full-on terrified.
“Literally as soon as a month from now our whole world can get blown apart. Sounds dramatic but that’s how it’ll feel. I’ll have to hand my daughter’s life over to surgeons hoping they do some of their most amazing work. We will fear for her life. Full on fight or flight mode. I don’t know how anybody can feel ‘ready’ for that.”
Lindsey added that her husband, Pat, “should know by end of April whether or not he (can) donate through the paired exchange program. If he is approved we will likely temporarily come off the (deceased donor) list and do a round of that to see if a match can be made.
“A live donor really is what’s best for Ferris so we remain hopeful one can be found. As of our meeting on Friday there aren’t any living donors approved to donate to Ferris.
“Please share to help find my girl the kidney she so desperately needs!”
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
IN THE NEWS! 📰📣 Dialysis problems at home hospital leaves Castlegar teen in Vancouver for months. From a failed kidney transplant 32 months ago to now being uprooted to B.C. Children's, 16-year-old Zach Tremblay's torment continues.https://t.co/HJeCpre4rk
If you’re a regular here, you are well aware of the travails of Zach Tremblay, 16, and his mother, Jana. They are stuck in what Jana calls “IHA limbo” as they wait until the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital gives the OK for him to begin hemo-dialysis treatments there. . . . They have been in Vancouver since Jan. 6 and it seems they may be there until at least the end of March. . . . Gord McIntyre of Postmedia has more on their story right here.
Dr. Anson Cheung, one of two heart surgeons at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, performed four heart transplants in a 60-hour stretch in the autumn of 2019. . . . “I even did open-heart surgeries during that time,” Dr. Cheung told Susan Lazaruk of Postmedia for a wonderful story that is right here. . . . One of the heart transplants involved Prem Sagar of Surrey, who underwent surgery on his 68th birthday.