Russ Harvey's Site - About Russ & His Interests

Our Story about Kidney Disease

We're Transplant Patients | Renal Dialysis | Michelle's Second Transplant | Register Your Wishes

Photo of Russ with Michelle

Do you ever think about Organ Donation?

I didn't think about it much until my doctor told me my kidneys were failing.

An average of 15 people every day learn that their kidneys have failed and it can be a very long wait for a transplant — if you are eligible.

We're Transplant Patients

I spent almost a year on a pre-dialysis diet then began peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) four times a day. Not only did this consume a great deal of my life, but I was faced with the very real possibility that my life would not last much longer.

My Kidney Transplant

After waiting 2 1/2 years, I received a kidney transplant on April 17th, 1996.

My brother, Todd, donated one of his kidneys — literally the gift of life!

With this transplant, I no longer needed to schedule my activities around four daily sessions of peritoneal dialysis and I have far fewer diet restrictions.

Medications Require Special Care

Because I'm on immune suppressants (anti-rejection medications) I have to be more careful than most people. This is an issue I take seriously.

The Kidney Foundation manual, Living with Kidney Disease:

Children and adults with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney transplant recipients are at higher risk of serious illness, including COVID-19. There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians:
  • Aged 65 and over
  • With compromised immune systems
  • With underlying medical conditions.
[P]eople who are immune-compromised — because of chronic illnesses, medical treatments or medications — are at much greater risk of both contracting and suffering more severe symptoms from infections, including COVID-19. Aggressive physical distancing is wise and total isolation probably a good idea, if you can tolerate it. — André Picard

Michelle's Story

In 2002 I married Michelle, also a kidney transplant. It is unlikely we'd have been able to marry if we didn't have healthy renal transplants and probably neither of us would be alive today.

  • My kidney transplant was on April 17, 1996.
  • Michelle's kidney transplant was on December 4, 1979.

Both of us continued to enjoy stable renal transplants until 2016 when Michelle was told that her transplant's health was declining.

This resulted in a drastic reduction in her ability to enjoy an active lifestyle and I became her caregiver (while still acting as my mother's caregiver).

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Back on Dialysis

Michelle began hemodialysis on November 8, 2017 — barely a month before her transplant's 38th anniversary on December 4th.

Photo of Michelle during her hemodialysis treatment
Michelle on dialysis, November 8, 2017

She spent Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in the Royal Jubilee Renal Dialysis Unit hooked up to a hemodialysis machine while waiting for another transplant. The average wait time is too long (because not enough people are registered as organ donors in B.C.).

Being on dialysis was challenging because of her low energy level. She was unable to do much of what had been capable of with a fully-functioning kidney transplant.

My New Role as Caregiver

As her caregiver, I had to take care of meals and other daily tasks that she was no longer able to manage. I also accompanied her to her dialysis sessions where I assisted Michelle, other patients and staff as I was able.

Many families have to take on the role of caregiver, often looking after aging parents while their own children are still in the home. Caregivers have an important role in keeping patients (including renal patients) healthy.

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Michelle's Second Transplant

While on dialysis on Monday, December 23, 2019, Michelle was told that she was going to receive another kidney transplant and that she was to have a short dialysis session and head to Vancouver General Hospital as soon as possible where she was to state that she was being admitted for a kidney transplant.

Checking in at VGH T4D

Once there, she began the process of meeting the initial admissions requirements, then we were taken up to Solid Organ Transplant on the 4th floor and assigned a bed. The organ was retrieved later that afternoon and we knew that the kidney was viable around 9:00 p.m. (there was a chance the kidney would be declared unsuitable and we'd return to Victoria and Michelle would resume dialysis).

The Surgery

Her initial surgery booking was cancelled by an emergency, but at 4:30 a.m. on December 24th she was taken to the operating room for her transplant.

During the post-surgery phone call, the surgeon described her surgery as “challenging” but the team did a wonderful job. I got to see her in recovery late that morning.

Recovery

Post-surgery, Michelle began the process of healing and recovering her strength. Right after the surgery, her new kidney was doing a great job of cleaning her blood and creating urine.

Michelle was discharged from Vancouver General Hospital late on December 31, 2019, with the expectation that we'd stay in Vancouver for up to 3 months until the transplant team felt she could be managed by the Victoria Transplant Clinic.

The First Two Months Post-Transplant

We were very fortunate to stay in a furnished one-bedroom suite on the ground floor at Oakway Manor, on 10th Avenue West, across from VGH Emergency. Alfred and his grandson, Clint, both made our stay much easier.

Vancouver Transplant Clinic

In the following two months, Michelle and I would walk to the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre, across Laurel Street from Vancouver General Hospital, and wait for the VGH lab to open for her blood work. We'd then head up to the fifth floor and report to the Vancouver Transplant Clinic where she would see a nurse and nephrologist (renal doctor) as well as any other required consultations such as the pharmacy to renew her anti-rejection medications.

This took much of the morning (from about 6:30 until 11:30 but sometimes longer).

For the first while, we went to Transplant Clinic twice a week — Tuesday and Friday mornings. During this time her staples were removed and the drain to her new kidney. Later this was reduced to once a week on Wednesdays until the stint had been removed and the doctors were satisfied that she was no longer is danger of rejection.

The Return Home

On February 19th we were told we'd be able to return home to Victoria. We packed up our belongings and the food and other items we'd acquired while in Vancouver and returned home on the February 21st 5:00 p.m. ferry with our friend, Lenna, who'd brought her car over to take us home.

Michelle had her first appointment at Victoria Transplant Clinic on March 10th at which time she ceased to be a Vancouver Transplant Clinic patient.

We're Thankful

We're thankful for the wonderful care before and after her transplant at VGH T4D ward as well as during the two months of post-transplant follow up at Transplant Clinic. The doctors, nurses and other staff helped us through a difficult time.

 

Register Your Wishes

Wear green in support of organ & tissue donation

If you have never considered organ donation, please fill out the organ donor registration (you can do it online).

I can't emphasize enough the difference it can make in people's lives as well as their families.

One organ donor can benefit over 75 people and save up to 8 lives. That's 8 lives that are greatly improved when one person chooses to be a donor.

Learn More About Kidney Disease

I hope that our story has helped you to understand some of the challenges of living with kidney disease.

I encorage you to take a look at my information about kidney disease and the B.C. Organ Donor Registry. There is much that you can do to ease the wait times for transplants.

It is far more likely that you'll require a transplant than become a donor — even if you're registered.

 

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russharvey.bc.ca/russ/our_story.html
Updated: March 23, 2020