Jeff Vanderveen and wife Kathy McIntee discuss kidney donation at home in Abbotsford, Feb. 1, 2014.
Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, Nick Procaylo
Jeff Vanderveen calls Kathy McIntee “the woman who saved my life.”
Two years ago, a few months after the Abbotsford couple began dating, Vanderveen received shocking news: His kidneys were failing due to undiagnosed high blood pressure.
Since then, McIntee has helped her partner through some difficult times. One of his kidneys had to be removed, and he goes to the hospital for dialysis three days a week.
But in McIntee’s mind, her life-saving work is far from over.
“I’m doing everything I can think of to find him a kidney donor,” she said. “We’re trying to keep our faith and hope up.”
B.C. leads the country with the highest rate of living kidney donations, said B.C. Transplant spokeswoman Peggy John. Last year was a record year for kidney transplants, although official numbers were not available by The Province’s deadline.
But for Vanderveen and McIntee, the only kidney that really matters is the one that’s a match for him. They’ve been told he could wait up to eight years. As of mid-December, there were 384 people on the B.C. kidney transplant list, and the median wait time was more than four years.
To cut Vanderveen’s time, McIntee has been trying everything she can think of to find a living donor. Both herself and family have been ruled out for various reasons, causing her to rely on the kindness of strangers.
I’ve posted Craigslist ads across North America and Canada. I’ve joined Facebook groups. I’ve followed up on everything I can think of,” she said.
Recently, she began posting signs in gas station windows, telling the couple’s story and providing a contact email address. She also has a poster on her vehicle, an idea she saw online.
“I know there is somebody out there who can help,” she said. “It’s like a spiderweb, we just have to make the right connections.”
The next idea she plans to try is a sandwich board.
McIntee’s tactics are not recommended by B.C. Transplant, said John.
“We would advise people not to take that approach because it opens you up to a lot of risk,” she said. “Of course, it is illegal to buy or sell organs in Canada ... Advertising isn’t recommended because you’re never sure about the intent of the person stepping forward.”
McIntee can relate to that. She posted an ad in an online forum in the United States. Someone offered to give her a kidney for $300,000. She promptly told him to keep it.
But she said one bad experience hasn’t kept her from believing there might be a truly good-hearted person out there.
In fact, Vanderveen was contacted by B.C. Transplant about a possible anonymous donor last week. It’s unclear if the person will be a match, but he’s hopeful, while trying to remain realistic. There have been times when he’s thought there was a match in the past.
“We’re not giving up the search until I actually receive a kidney,” he said. “For everyone on the transplant list, this is their only chance.”
John said most live donations come from people in the patient’s family or community. There is, however, a living anonymous donor program that has resulted in six transplants, according to the B.C. Transplant website. B.C. also participates in a living donor paired exchange program, which runs three times a year and allows patients with a willing donor who is not a blood match to be part of a circle of donors and recipients.
It’s like a domino effect,” said John.
In all cases, donors must go through a rigorous testing process, including physical and psychological exams.
Vanderveen said kidney disease has limited his ability to work. He once pulled 12 to 14 hour days, operating a garbage bin business and helping with field work on his parents’ farm. Now, he’s only able to work four to six hours. He is often tired. His sleeping patterns and appetite have changed, and his legs swell if he consumes too much water. He must also avoid certain foods, like starfruit and Brussels sprouts, which contain enough potassium to kill him.
“I just want to encourage all Canadians to get on the list,” he said of the organ donation list. “It is possible to make a difference and save someone’s life.”
- Visit www.transplant.bc.ca to register to become an organ donor. To learn more about the living anonymous donor program, visitwww.transplant.bc.ca/living_donation.htm
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