Two decades have passed since Brandon O’Reilly gave up one of his kidney’s for his mother Kim.
It was an easy decision for him then, and one that helped shape his view on the importance of organ donation.
“What are you going to do with it when you’re gone? If you can save some lives or changes people’s lives for the better, I think that’s the way to do it,” said Brandon.
Brandon’s kidney was the first donated organ Kim would receive.
Sometime after the 2001 transplant surgery, Kim said she met with the University of Alberta’s Dr. James Shapiro who was responsible for the islet transplant procedure for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.
“He asked me if I’d be interested in a pancreas, going on the list for a pancreas,” said Kim. “Initially, I thought it was the islet cell he was talking about, but he was talking about the entire pancreas.”
Kim was on a wait list for about three-and-a-half years. In 2008, she was called to the university hospital where she underwent surgery.
“I woke up the next morning and didn’t need to take insulin anymore. It was just amazing,” said Kim. Also amazing for her was the rehabilitation/recovery process, during which she had an opportunity to meet others who had received organs from the same donor.
“That to me was, holy cow, what a gift that person gave,” said Kim.
Kim and Brandon, who reside in the Shuswap, became organ donation advocates after the kidney transplant. She said they did some speaking engagements together.
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Kim also worked for the university on its transplant program evaluation. She recalled one of the questionnaires she put together which asked, are you registered as an organ donor and if not, why? Kim said many of the non-registered respondents simply didn’t understand organ donation or how the process worked.
Another personal experience also helped shape Kim’s views on the importance of organ donation. In 1989, she had a daughter, Brittney, who was born with biliary atresia, a condition in which the bile ducts from the liver don’t drain properly. Brittney was put on a transplant list and she and Kim travelled from Alberta to London, Ont., where the surgery could be done.
The day a donor liver became available Brittney passed away. She had been on the donor list for six weeks.
“The doctors tried but she was just to ill by then to survive it,” Kim said.
The tragedy prompted Kim to assess what’s most important in life, and prioritize things that make her happy.
“I’m just so thankful she was in our life, she taught us so much about living and life and everything else,” said Kim.
In Brittney’s memory, Kim’s husband Dan signed up to donate his bone marrow. He ended up being a match with a cancer patient, and was able to donate.
“When I think about it I have to pinch myself sometimes, the coincidences in our family, of what happened for who…,” said Kim.
With her two pancreases and three kidneys, Kim said she hasn’t had to have an insulin shot since the transplant in 2008. In 2012, she competed in the Canadian Transplant Games, in the 50-, 100- and 400-metre sprints, and brought home gold medals in the process.
While parts of her story are difficult to share, Kim is pleased to help educate others on the importance of organ donation, and raise awareness of Green Shirt Day, coming up on April 7. This campaign was inspired by Humboldt Bronco’s defenceman Logan Boulet, who was one of 16 people killed in a bus crash in April 2018. Being a registered organ donor, Boulet saved six lives, according to the Green Shirt Day website, and prompted the “Logan Boulet Effect,” in which approximately 15,000 people were inspired to become donors.