Dr. Melissa Blake
My cousin was born with neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer that resulted in a surgery to remove one of her kidneys and radiation treatments. Several years later, as an adult, she was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PCKD). PCKD is generally a hereditary condition, although no one else in our family has it. The disease was progressing and Melanie was told she would soon require dialysis if a donor was not found.
Unfortunately, over 1,600 Canadians are added to organ wait lists every year and every year people on these lists die while waiting for a lifesaving organ.
In 2005, I was studying naturopathic medicine in Toronto (where my cousin’s specialists also happened to be). With things looking pretty desperate for a donor, I offered to donate my kidney to my cousin. In July of that year, after various tests to ensure we were a match and that I was healthy enough to be a donor, we underwent surgery to remove one of my kidneys, which was then put into my cousin – the wonders of modern medicine! After a very short hospital stay I was on my way home. Using my knowledge of naturopathic medicine, I recovered quickly, with very little pain and zero complications. Melanie’s hospital stay was longer as her body tried to reject the donated kidney. With the expertise of her doctors, they stabilized her immune system and she was able to go home with a new lease on life.
A transplant is a type of surgery where an organ or tissue is removed from one person, the donor, and given to another, the recipient. There are various reasons why a person may need a transplant including damage, trauma, or illness that influences the ability of that organ or tissue function.
The first transplant in the 1950s was of a heart valve. Since then, successful transplantations of almost all organs and tissues – including kidney, lung, liver, heart, bone marrow, pancreas, bowel, eye, and skin – occur every day. Major advancements in drug protocols have also drastically decreased rejection rates.
Not everyone has the opportunity or ability to be a live donor, and the need for organ and tissue donation far exceeds what live donors could provide. Also, not all organs can be donated from live donors. I feel blessed that I was given the chance to have the experience. I feel very proud of the choice I made and the impact it continues to have.
What everyone does have is the opportunity to save lives - in fact by making the commitment to donate your organs and tissues after you no longer need them, your decision can benefit more than 75 people and save up to eight lives! What a gift!
Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor and there is no cost to do so.
According to the Canadian Transplant Society website, over 80 per cent of Canadians support organ transplant but less than 20 per cent have actually made plans to donate their organs and tissues.
If organ transplant sounds like a good idea to you, please take the appropriate steps to ensure someone else can benefit from your organs and tissues when you no longer need them. It can be hard to think about what’s going to happen to your body after you die but being an organ donor is a heroic, worthwhile decision that can save lives. Sign your donor card. Visit www.cantransplant.ca for provincial links to registration steps. Include your wishes in a will and let your friends and family know your intentions. Most provincial medicare renewal forms allow you to clearly indicate if you wish to donate.
My cousin’s story doesn’t end after a new kidney; she truly is making the most of her second chance at life. In July of this year, eight years after the transplant, she traveled to South Africa to compete for Team Canada in the World Transplant Games. To read more about my amazing cousin and her mission to bring awareness to organ donation, visit The Pear Tree’s Facebook page for a link to her story.
In July 2014 Moncton will host the Canadian Transplant Games! These games showcase transplant recipient athletes from across Canada in a celebration like no other. The mission of these games is to increase organ donation awareness and encourage the public to consider organ donation. For more information about these games visit www.organ-donation-works.org.
To think that so many Canadians, like Melanie, are on waiting lists for lifesaving organs is heart wrenching. Knowing there are people out there who can help, like you, gives us all hope.
See you at the Games!
Dr. Melissa Blake completed her pre-medical studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax where she received a bachelor of science in biology and psychology. Since graduating in 2006 from the four year medical program at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, she has been practicing at The Pear Tree Naturopathic Clinic located in Dieppe.