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Kidney donation from father 35 years ago gave Osoyoos woman her life back
An Osoyoos woman is living proof that a kidney donation can give someone his or her life back.
Julie Wolter has been living since 1978 thanks to a kidney donated by her father. It allowed her to get off dialysis and to live a normal life.
After 35 years, her kidney, which is now about 90 years old, is wearing out and soon she’ll need a new one, but she is forever grateful for her father’s gift.
Wolter hopes that her story will encourage people to consider becoming a living kidney donor.
She supports the work done by a local group called “Share Your Spare” to raise awareness that a donor can lead a normal life with only one kidney, while giving life back to the recipient.
“I would never have lasted much longer,” she says, recalling how a kidney illness, which she started developing at age nine, severely worsened when she was 25.
“Even though I was only on dialysis for a year, I wasn’t doing very well on it,” she says.
At the time, few kidney transplants were done, but Wolter’s father saw a television program about the process and immediately decided to donate a kidney to his daughter.
“I never approached my dad on that,” says Wolter. “It was his idea.”
Attitudes about transplants were different at the time and they were considered a last resort. In recent decades, the procedure has greatly improved and now transplants are often the preferred route.
When Wolter’s father donated his kidney, a large incision was required across his side and back and his ribs had to be spread.
Nowadays, laparoscopic techniques allow the kidney to be removed much less invasively.
Before her father came forward, doctors wanted to keep Wolter on dialysis, telling her a transplant was only a treatment option that might not last long.
Wolter wasn’t satisfied and requested she be put on the waiting list to receive a kidney from a deceased person, referred to as a cadaver.
The doctors told her she would have to heal completely and wait a year before she could even be considered.
Around that time, Wolter’s family moved from Mackenzie in northern B.C. to Ladysmith near Victoria so that she would have better treatment available. She switched to a specialist in Victoria who was much more supportive of transplants.
“The timing was excellent because he happened to be going to a nephrology convention in Quebec,” she said, adding that the doctor agreed to discuss it with specialists. When he returned, the operation was a go.
After the operation in 1978, Wolter was able to lead a normal life. Her father also led a normal life, living more than 20 years longer.
Asked if she felt a special bond with her father for giving her her life back, Wolter says she had a strong bond with him already.
“I’ve always been very close to my whole family,” she says. “I love my dad, but I can’t say I loved him any more than I did before. But there is something a little extra there.”
Her father would sometimes joke about it, referring to her with his co-workers as his “spare parts.”
The 35 years that her father’s kidney has lasted in her has been exceptional, and few last this long.
Its function has now diminished close to the minimum acceptable, but Wolter has not needed to go back onto dialysis yet and is still able to work at the library.
Her niece has volunteered to provide a replacement, and currently testing is underway to see if they are compatible matches.
If they aren’t, they could go into a paired exchange program where her niece would donate to a stranger at the same time Wolter receives a new kidney from another matching stranger.
This could, however, involve a long wait as kidneys with her “O” blood type are in high demand.
Wolter wants people to know what a difference it made to her life to receive her father’s kidney and she hopes people will come forward to offer their “spares” to someone who needs it.
“I had a child after I had the transplant,” she says. “I couldn’t have one before. I took up downhill skiing.”
Before the transplant, she was tied to her machine. After, she was able to travel and pursue a career.
She was able to take care of her daughter, who was dying of cancer, and she went on to adopt a son with her husband and have another of her own.
“I couldn’t have given [my daughter] that car and time if I’d been tied down to that machine,” she said.
Prior to getting her kidney, she usually felt exhausted like she had run a marathon.
“I’d like people to know how special it is,” she says. “I’ve never donated – I’m a recipient – but I’ve talked to people that donated and they say it’s a small thing really. You do have a spare. For the recipient, it’s not just making you feel a little better. It’s a whole new lease on life.”