Kidney Day marks two years since successful local donation

By on March 14, 2017
Julie Wolter (left) is shown recovering in hospital after receiving a kidney donated by Brian Rawlings (right). Both were out of hospital in days after the March 11 operation. Rawlings is back in Osoyoos and has lots of energy. Wolter is staying in Vancouver until around the beginning of May in case there are setbacks. (Diana Rawlings photo)

Julie Wolter (left) is shown recovering in hospital after receiving a kidney donated by Brian Rawlings (right) two years ago. Both were out of hospital in days after the March 11, 2015 operation. Rawlings says he was up in two days after having his kidney removed and was playing golf a couple weeks later. (Diana Rawlings photo)

It’s been two years since an Osoyoos woman, Julie Wolter, received a kidney donated by an Osoyoos man, Brian Rawlings, right around World Kidney Day.

Both Wolter and Rawlings are doing well two years later, as World Kidney Day took place last Thursday.

March is also Kidney Health Month.

Rawlings says he has only one regret about donating his kidney.

“The only regret I have is that I don’t have another one to give,” he said last Thursday. “I’d give my other one, but I kind of need one.”

Most people have two kidneys, but can function normally with just one.

Wolter was the fourth in a group of four local women needing a kidney transplant, which prompted a group based at the Kemp Harvey Craig accounting office to launch the “Share Your Spare” campaign in 2013.

It was a campaign to raise awareness of live kidney donation that got the Osoyoos Coyotes hockey team onboard.

Even today, the successful team has the slogan “Be the Kidney” on their jerseys.

Two other Osoyoos women, Judy Sloan and Lynn Cunningham, received kidneys from cadaver donors.

Laura Craig, the wife of accountant Terry Craig, originally received a kidney donated by her husband, but when it failed eight years later, she too received one from a cadaver donor.

Wolter could not be reached for comment on this story, but Rawlings said the two have a bond that goes beyond his donated kidney.

They both attend Osoyoos Baptist Church and Rawlings’ wife Diana works with Wolter at Okanagan Regional Library.

Rawlings said Wolter’s two sisters and mother also attend the same church.

“I am now a brother,” he said. “I’m brother to the sisters and I’m son to the mother. So I’m family.”

Annick Lim, who lives in Kaleden and is a volunteer spokesperson for the March kidney efforts through the Kidney Foundation of Canada (B.C. and Yukon Branch), calls Osoyoos “an incredible community” for its efforts to promote live kidney donor awareness.

Her focus, however, has been on encouraging people to register as organ donors so that their wishes are known and transplants can take place in the event of their sudden death.

Registration is simple and can easily be done online at www.transplant.bc.ca.

Lim, who was born with a condition that later required her to receive a transplant, is passionate about encouraging people to register.

She thinks the reason many British Columbians don’t register has nothing to do with the time it takes. Rather, they don’t want to think about death, especially when it comes to registering their children under age 19.

“Some people really joyfully register and then I’ll give them extra forms because they have children with them,” she said. “Suddenly their attitude goes from joyful to ‘oh, no, no, I don’t even want to think about that.’”

Lim points out that people are more likely to need an organ transplant than they ever are to be a donor.

“I think it’s a hard topic,” she said. “But at the end of the day, you don’t want to leave that burden to family members to make for you.”

Lim also challenges the misconception that some people have that they can’t donate organs because of their age.

“In fact, the oldest person that donated their organ in Canada was 93 and the oldest person in B.C. was 79,” she said.

Lim has usually received a positive response when she asks people to register, but one incident about six years ago made a big impact.

It happened when she was volunteering on a kidney campaign at Wal-Mart in Penticton.

“It was an especially hard day,” Lim recalls. “I had one gentleman literally tell me off. I had to sit down and compose myself for a few minutes before I could stand up and go back to approaching the public.”

Although she wasn’t blocking him, when she asked if he would register his wishes for organ donation, he told her to “get the hell out of my way.”

As Lim composed herself, the next person to walk in was a woman in her late 20s. When Lim asked her to register her wishes, her reaction was dramatically different.

“Yes, yes, I want to donate a kidney,” the woman told her.

“She just went completely, absolutely over the top,” said Lim, adding that the woman then pulled out her phone to take a selfie of the two of them together.

Lim at first thought the woman was crazy, but she was serious. She had wanted to become a live donor, but her mother had tried to talk her out of it and she was emotionally torn.

“She was driving around town, crying hysterically, not knowing where to go,” Lim said. “She was out in the parking lot, praying for a sign, and she walked into Wal-Mart. She just happened to run into me and apparently I was her sign.”

The woman, Shelley Hunt, also of Kaleden, followed through and travelled to Ontario at her own expense to donate her kidney.

The incident inspired a short YouTube video called “A Miracle in Walmart.” They’ve remained friends.

Lim points out that March is also the time when the Kidney Foundation of Canada, B.C. and Yukon Branch conducts fundraising in its “March Drive.”

Although door-to-door canvassing still takes place in some communities, people can donate at https://kidney.ca/bc-home or by calling 1-800-567-8112, she said.

Another focus of Kidney Health Month is promoting kidney health, both through a healthy lifestyle and through eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) screening for potential early kidney problems.

Lim said this urine test is simple to do and she notes that people with a family history of kidney disease and non-Caucasians may be more predisposed to certain conditions.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of kidney disease, so managing blood pressure and blood sugar levels can be important for kidney health.

As for Rawlings, he’s encouraged by a recent program involving the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) and B.C. Transplant.

Now visitors to driver licensing offices will be given an opportunity to register their wishes for organ donation.

Getting a transplant, he said, not only improves the recipient’s lifestyle.

“The economic upside of not having to live on dialysis for the rest of your life is huge,” he said.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

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