Six years ago, Bill Fish received the greatest gift he’s ever received – and it came from a woman he hardly knew.
So far, it has meant the gift of 2,198 days of life – time that would have run out long before for a man who was suffering from hereditary poly-cystic kidney disease and who needed a transplant.
But in a strange turn of fate, Pat Haddad’s decision to donate a kidney to Fish, 64, also helped save her from a fate of painful brittle, broken bones. The testing required for potential donors identified a parathyroid condition that usually is not diagnosed until someone breaks a major bone. Now, Haddad has been able to receive treatment before her condition became dire.
While they are not related, Fish and Haddad now say they exchanged not only a kidney, but a piece of each other’s spirit.
Since the transplant, for example, Fish, who never had a sweet tooth, now craves the sweets that Haddad adores.
“It’s like we are brother and sister now,” says Fish, as the pair giggle and joke together. “I enjoy every day, because I’m not going to waste a minute of the kidney that Pat shared. It’s given me my life. I can do everything I want again. I hunt, I fish, I’m able to work.”
While the idea of a living organ transplant might remain foreign to some people, it is becoming increasingly common and is generally very successful. People can survive well with only one functioning kidney, and a portion of someone’s liver can also be transplanted from a live donor.
Generally living donations come from family members or relatives, but all it takes is a willing donor and a match.
In Haddad’s case, she heard Fish needed a kidney through the BC Hydro grapevine, as her husband and Fish had both worked for the company. They’d met casually at some Salmon Arm social occasions, but weren’t really friends.
Soon after hearing the news, Haddad saw Fish’s wife Arlene downtown.
“I got out of my car and, in that moment, I knew my kidney was going to Bill,” she said. “It was like it wasn’t even my kidney anymore, even though it was still in my body. I walked up to Arlene and I told her I was going to donate my kidney to Bill.”
Haddad was convinced the pair would be a match and reassured Fish through every test and every piece of paperwork.
“I knew it was gonna work right from the start. There was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be Bill’s kidney,” says Haddad.
Her instinct proved to be spot on. When results came in, the match was so close doctors actually thought the pair might be related.
And so on Jan. 17, 2011, Haddad walked across the street from her hotel to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver to give up one of her organs. Later that morning, the transplant team added Haddad’s kidney to Fish’s barely functioning two. In Fish’s case, his non-functioning kidneys were not actually removed, but the new healthy kidney takes over the work.
Three days later, Haddad was out of the hospital and Fish was released in five days.
“It was a very easy recovery. I felt pretty great really soon afterwards, and I still do,” says Haddad.
“And of course, compared to where I was, I felt amazing,” adds Fish. “It gave me my life back. My hope is other people will read this and consider doing what Pat did for me.”
Haddad says the Canadian Kidney Foundation is not allowed to advertise for living organ donors, so this can hamper public knowledge of the option. The pair are hoping their story will prompt others to consider living donation.
“People need to know this is out there, it’s safe and the costs to the donor are covered. And you get treated so well, it’s beyond belief,” says Haddad.
For more information about the organ transplant donation program in B.C., check out the website transplant.bc.ca.
“I want people to know how profound a gift this is,” says Fish. “Obviously it is life-saving.”