Why did I give a kidney to someone I don’t know and probably never will?

Michel HérouxMy journey began when my best friend was battling kidney cancer, which then spread to other parts of his body despite several operations. Unfortunately, he lost his battle on March 2, 2020, ten years after his initial diagnosis. I offered him one of my kidneys, but it was too late—his cancer was already stage 4. The only thing they could do for him at that point was to give him medication to ease the pain in his final days.

Although I couldn’t save my best friend with a kidney donation, why couldn’t I help someone else? After all, life has been good to me. So, I put my name on Transplant Québec’s donor lists. I didn’t know anyone who needed a kidney, but I knew that it wouldn’t be hard to find someone who did.

I started the process in January 2020 and was hoping to have surgery in the spring or summer of that year at the latest. But my predictions were way off as the process took longer than I expected. The COVID-19 health crisis was no help.

I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Michel R. Pâquet, a nephrologist at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), who gave me two options: I could either donate a kidney in Quebec to a recipient who would be selected by Transplant Québec, or register for the Canada-wide paired kidney donation program.

I decided to participate in the Canada-wide program because, due to COVID-19, the rules had changed. Before, I would have had to have surgery in the province where the transplant would take place, but since the pandemic began, it was decided that kidneys, and not donors, would do the travelling. I chose this option because I didn’t want to have surgery outside Quebec.

I had to undergo a whole array of medical exams and blood tests, not so much to see whether I’m compatible with my recipient, but rather to make sure I can make it to age 90 with just one kidney. If the tests reveal any doubt whatsoever, the operation won’t happen. As they say, there’s no point robbing Peter to pay Paul! As with any operation, there is always a risk, but I can tell you that they put me through a whole battery of tests and did everything to minimize this risk.

I was told that I would have less of an appetite after the operation, but that it’s perfectly normal and I shouldn’t force myself to eat. I didn’t, and as a result I lost 13 pounds (5.9 kg).

I would love to meet the person who received my kidney but unfortunately, privacy laws prohibit the release of donor or recipient information. What I can say is that I had the operation, it went well and the person who received my kidney was discharged from the hospital. I’m incredibly happy about that and I assume he or she is too!

“Having donated a kidney gives me a sense of accomplishment. It’s a really rewarding thing to do, and I encourage people to follow suit.”

I wasn’t the first person in my family to donate a kidney. In 2013, my sister, Hélène Héroux, gave one of her kidneys to her husband, Gaétan Frigon, and both are still doing very well.

So why give a kidney to someone I don’t know and probably never will? Why not?

Michel Héroux

Two brothers and a sister: a family confronts kidney disease together

Serge Pisapia suffered from kidney disease and was on dialysis; he was also on the kidney transplant waiting list. His brother Jean-Marc, who found the waiting times extremely long, decided to give Serge one of his kidneys. But tests revealed that Jean-Marc had a small kidney stone, which meant he couldn’t donate a kidney. So their sister Christine decided to give one of her kidneys to Serge, who by then had spent two years on dialysis.

Watch the 10-minute video of the Pisapia’s story

Sofia donated a kidney to her best friend Anthony

I never could have imagined being able to save the life of someone so close to me. I’ve known Anthony for over 10 years. We met at Dawson College and we’ve been best friends ever since. When I learned that Anthony’s kidneys had stopped working and that he had to undergo dialysis at home several times a day, it broke my heart.

I knew I couldn’t just sit there and twiddle my thumbs, watching him undergo all those difficult treatments. So I told Anthony and his parents that I wanted to give him one of my kidneys.

Although I didn’t know if my kidney was a match for him, I knew something had to be done. Over the next few months, I underwent a long list of tests, saw countless doctors, and finally received the amazing news: I was a 100% match for Anthony!

When we got the news, our eyes filled with tears of joy. The unknowns never worried me, because the doctors had prepared me well. I also knew I could count on the unconditional support of my family, my friends and most importantly, my best friend Anthony. I knew that as of May 12, 2011, he would have his health back and that he would have it for the rest of his life, and as I made that major decision, his health was the only thing I could think of. I am absolutely thrilled about what I’ve done, and seeing him enjoy life again is the best reward I could ever have hoped for.

Lyne Beaulieu gave one of her kidneys to Raphaëlle

On June 15, 2010, Lyne Beaulieu of Granby gave a kidney to six-year-old Raphaëlle Gosselin, changing her life forever.

Raphaëlle had been suffering from kidney failure from a very tender age. In November 2008, when she was four, doctors decided to remove both her kidneys because they’d stopped working. After the operation, she had to undergo dialysis twelve hours a day, every weekday for two years until she was old enough to receive a donor kidney.

It was Raphaëlle’s grandmother who made Lyne aware of the child’s situation. Touched by her story and by how young she was, she decided to donate a kidney to Raphaëlle. Lyne is a universal donor, so she knew she was compatible.

She had met Raphaëlle only a few months before deciding to give her a kidney. She contacted Sainte-Justine Hospital to tell them what she wanted to do, and then, under the supervision of Dr. Clermont, she underwent a series of compulsory tests in the first half of 2010. Lyne persevered and pushed the hospital to minimize the time between tests. Her goal was to get Raphaëlle her transplant as soon as possible to spare her the painful dialysis treatments. “I admire this family. They’re what kept me going,” said Lyne.

Lyne and Raphaëlle met only once more before the transplant. Lyne gave Raphaëlle a stuffed toy. “It’ll bring you good news,” Lyne told her.

The transplant took place on June 15, 2010, and was successful.

In the days that followed, Lyne received a call from Raphaëlle, who told her the good news. She had just finished drinking a glass of apple juice, a glass of orange juice and a glass of water, one after the other. Lyne knew that such simple things meant the world to the little girl and was overjoyed to see Raphaëlle leading a normal life like all the other girls her age.

However, Lyne keeps a low profile when it comes to Raphaëlle’s family. “I didn’t give her my kidney, I just gave her a kidney,” she said. “I’m just a link in the long chain of life.” She added that during this “incredible journey of solidarity,” she had “experienced great things.” She would also like to draw attention to the “outstanding skills of the doctors and the kindness of the nurses” throughout the transplant process.