Matt Lepp with cousin and kidney donor Stephanie Lepp Hickey.

Gratitude to advocacy

When Lepp needed someone to give him part of their liver, Stephanie stepped up, quite possibly saving his life

By Jessica Wallace
Kamloops This Week

Matt Lepp is grateful for Stephanie.

She’s the reason he’s back to work at Treetop Flyers and why he’s able to make summer plans to go rock climbing and do other outdoor  adventures.

Because, when Lepp needed someone to give him part of their liver, Stephanie stepped up, quite possibly saving his life.

“You can’t even describe it,” Lepp, 28, told the newspaper. “It’s such a brave and selfless thing that someone would do for someone else.

“I’m just grateful forever.”

When Lepp was 18, he was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis – a slowly progressing disease that affects the ability for bile ducts to carry digestive liquid from the liver to the small intestine — and lived without symptoms for nearly a decade.

In 2006, Lepp moved to Kamloops from Saskatchewan to study tourism at Thompson Rivers University before he and others started the ziplining company in Chase.

Symptoms of the disease began to surface last spring.

It started with feelings of weakness, decreased energy and weight loss.

The once seemingly dormant disease progressed to infections that landed him in the hospital.

The doctor said he would need a transplant because, Lepp said, he was “basically in liver failure.”

With high demand – more than 1,600 Canadians are added to organ wait lists each year, according to the Canadian Transplant Association – and a long wait list, Lepp’s doctor recommended he find a living donor, someone who would willingly donate part of their organ directly to him.

“In my case, my MELD score [which determines one’s place on the transplant list] didn’t reflect how sick I was,” Lepp said.

“Basically, doctors told me I wouldn’t have lived long enough to receive a donated organ.”

Several family members were tested and cousin Stephanie Lepp Hickey – who Lepp said is more like a sibling and who is also in her mid-20s – was a match.

She flew into Edmonton’s University of Alberta Hospital from her home in Dallas, Tex., to donate 70 per cent of her liver to Lepp.

The major surgery took Stephanie out of work for a month and left Lepp with a scar that runs inches across and down his stomach.

He also faced months of physiotherapy and will take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life.

Nonetheless, he has been left “feeling awesome.”

“It’s a pretty amazing thing, organ donation, because you go from being sick and, in a lot of cases, being on the brink of death, to waking up and just feeling like a new person,” he said.

“I’m feeling actually better than I ever have.”

Eight months later, gratitude has turned to advocacy.

Lepp hosted a gala in Kamloops last week to raise funds for the Canadian Transplant Association and spread the word about organ donation.

Guest speakers included Lepp, Margaret Benson from the Canadian Transplant Association and Abby Farnsworth, a local teenaged transplant survivor.

Organ donation

When Lepp looks at the numbers, he can rattle off reasons he thinks Canadians aren’t registering for organ donation.

There’s forgetfulness, procrastination and even laziness but, mostly, he said, “people don’t want to think about it.”

In reality, however, signing up to donate organs and tissue can save up to eight lives and impact up to 75 others, according to the Canadian Transplant Association.

Lepp is one of them.

“Only about 25 per cent of Canadians are registered organ donors,” Lepp said.

“About 90 per cent of people are in favour of it, but not a lot of people actually then take that and actually register.”

He said it’s easy and encourages people to have conversations with family members and register by visiting Service BC, at 455 Columbia St., Kamloops, or by filling out the form that comes with a driver’s licence.

“There are so many people waiting for an organ and a second chance at life,” Lepp said.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Okanagan and Shuswap MPs want federal funds to help stop invasive species

Concerns raised that spending favours Eastern Canada.

Homeowners arrive in North Shuswap to find thieves busy breaking in

Chase RCMP request assistance from public in tracking down suspects

Driver in North Shuswap observed vomiting after crashing vehicle, then running

Chase RCMP say woman was impaired, given 90-day driving prohibition

RCMP called in North Shuswap about vehicle with U.S. licence plates

Police summoned on July 4 regarding car parked with California plates

Horgan says B.C. restart making gains as more people come out of their homes

B.C. announced the easing of more restrictions on businesses, recreation and travel last month

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

Ryga Arts Festival to include virtual and in-person events

Arts festival in Summerland will run from Aug. 15 to 23

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Man drowns while swimming in Okanagan Lake

The incident happened off the shores of West Kelowna on Thursday

Conservatives say police should be called into investigate WE charity scandal

Trudeau is already under investigation by the ethics commissioner for potential conflict of interest

Most Read