According to the province, as of April 25th, more than 21 per cent (815,000) of adult Albertans have registered their wishes to become organ and/or tissue donors after death. This is welcome news to Airdronian Michelle Eldridge.
Eldridge has had not one, but two kidney transplants in her lifetime. Her health problems started just after her first son was born.
“I found out that I had kidney disease and that my kidneys were failing. I needed a kidney transplant. 17 years later, I needed another kidney transplant,” she said. “I may need another one down the road.”
Eldridge would be diagnosed with FSGS: Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis years after her first transplant.
“I was young, and I had two young children and my kidneys were failing and my sister actually became my donor at that time. I thought, once I get my transplant, this is going to last forever, and I'm going to be fine.”
FSGS is a very rare kidney disease in which the kidney’s filters become damaged and scarred, meaning they can no longer filter the body’s blood of impurities, which in turn leads to kidney failure. When Eldridge’s first kidney began to fail, doctors began testing family members first, as oftentimes family members are a close match, minimizing the risk of organ rejection. Her sister would become an almost perfect match.
“Some of the things that she had to go through; I am so thankful because I swear, she probably went through a lot worse than what I did. I didn’t really have a choice, but she was the one that made the choice that she would do it for me,” Eldridge said. “You have to be quite strong to be able to do that.”
Her first kidney transplant took place in 1998. Two decades later her doctors delivered devastating news.
“All of a sudden your doctor says, ‘your lab work has come back and your kidneys are failing, and you're going to need another transplant.’ I cry in the moment, and then I shake it off and I continue because there's nothing else, I can do.”
By the time she needed her second transplant, it would be a work colleague that would donate their kidney to Eldridge.
“One of the girls I worked with, told me, ‘I'm going to get tested.’ And I said, ‘pardon me, you're doing what?’”
The co-worker told Eldridge that after she had watched her struggle and wanted to be her donor.
“I was just shocked that it was somebody that I worked with, it wasn't even a relative; we were work associates. But we have become really good friends now and she's like a sister to me and I'm thankful for her.”
But even with her co-worker’s selflessness, Eldridge’s life is a continuous battle with her health.
“Every month I'm going to lab work, I take 12 pills a day so that my body doesn't reject my kidney. I have to go in and have biopsies to find out that everything's still working.”
After two transplants, and anticipating another one, Eldridge is imploring the public to sign the donor cards.
“There's a lot of people that are looking for kidneys. I hear even from people that they're scared to do that; scared to give body parts and scared to donate. [But] what if somebody didn't donate to me? I might not have been here for my children.”
On May 9th, the provincial government announced that a new $2-million Specialist in End-of-Life Care, Neuroprognostication and Donation (SEND) program, with 22 specialist physicians are coordinating organ donation and transplantation opportunities.
Alberta completed more than 400 organ transplants and more than 2,600 tissues were released for transplant or surgical reconstruction last year.
Albertans who are interested in becoming an organ and tissue donors can register their consent in one easy step at ultimategiftalberta.ca or in person at an Alberta registry office.
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