Living donor gives life

NOTE: This article originally appeared in AgriView Vol. 10 Issue 1

While they’ve only known each other for a little over seven years, Nathan Dennis and Stewart King have a special bond, one stronger than many friends develop over a lifetime. In January, Dennis donated a kidney to King.

Both men are farmers. Dennis, a young farmer, works at Headline Holsteins, a dairy operation, and operates his own vegetable and hay business. King grows hay and raises beef cattle. The two farmers met at the 2009 Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture (NLFA) Annual Meeting. They discussed working together on importing livestock, and since that time, they have become great friends.

King, 52, has been coping with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) for about 15 years. It was initially discovered through an ultrasound and was fairly manageable for the first few years. But even with good management, the disease got worse over time. By 2015, King was taking four hours of dialysis treatments three times a week. This meant a very restricted lifestyle and a diminished quality of life.

When someone is in need of a kidney there are two primary options available. The first is a deceased donor donation, where the donor has passed away but has organs which can be of use to someone in need. The other option is a living donation, which happens when a person decides to donate one of their kidneys to a person in need of a transplant. A living kidney donation offers several advantages over a deceased donation, namely time to plan, less waiting, a potential avoidance of dialysis, and a better overall success rate due to a kidney that usually is healthier and lasts longer.

The first person to be tested for organ donation was King’s wife Daphne. When it was determined she wouldn’t be a suitable donor, Dennis, 28, stepped up to the plate. Dennis at first discussed the idea with his girlfriend Ashley, who was supportive. In January 2015, he called Daphne to see if she thought King would be interested. She enthusiastically compared the offer to throwing a lifeline to a drowning man. Things began to move forward. In the year leading up to the surgery, there were many tests and consultations. Since Dennis lives on the west coast and King on the east coast, they dealt with two different transplant coordinators, in Corner Brook and St. John’s, respectively. Dennis first had to go through a battery of tests to make sure he was healthy enough to be a donor.

During the year leading up to the surgery, Dennis says there were “so many needles put in me that I felt like a pin cushion.” King had to go through a similar litany of tests, which happened under the direction of his nephrologist (kidney specialist) Dr. Maureen Hannaford. King and Dennis kept passing the various tests and finally the procedure was approved. While many people may be apprehensive or nervous about the surgery involved, Dennis took a fairly relaxed approach. While he recognized that it is a major procedure, he said, “To me it’s not much of a bigger deal than giving blood.” He even joked that the many needles he had in the testing phase were worse than the surgery.

Of course, he spoke in jest as there was, in fact, a lot involved in preparing for the operation. King similarly wasn’t nervous going into it, but says he believes Daphne may have been a bit worried. King had his last dialysis on Jan, 20 of this year and the surgery took place the following day at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. The procedure was a total success; the kidney started working right on the operating table. After the surgery, other than some tenderness, King felt great. Soon after the procedure he was up and walking around the hospital, and within a week, he was recovering quite well. Now he has a lot more energy, has no need for dialysis, is able to eat a much less restrictive diet, and for the first time in 15 years does not have to take a blood pressure pill. King arrived home from Halifax on his birthday, gratefully noting that his new kidney was “quite a gift!”

Dennis is also doing quite well. While he is still not allowed to lift anything over 15 pounds, he often forgets and “almost gets himself into trouble.” Dennis also experiences great satisfaction knowing he was able to help. Throughout his recovery, he has been doing a lot of paperwork and helping Ashley around the apartment. Dennis should be able to return to work in May, and is looking at going back to his own farm full-time this year.

For more information on living donations, visit the Legacy for Life website.