Selfless act of good friend will provide kidney to Matthew Hassen of Osoyoos

By on October 4, 2017

Matt Hassen’s kidney’s are failing, but he now has a hospital date in November to receive a transplant donated by a friend. He’s holding fundraising activities to help pay his costs during his long convalescence. Richard McGuire photo.

Matthew Hassen is lost for words to describe the selfless act of a friend, Josh Hackett, who is donating a kidney to him.

Hassen, 37, works full time as a bartender at the Owl Pub in Osoyoos, but most of the time that he’s not working, he sleeps to restore his internal batteries that are drained by his kidney disease.

If all goes well, Hackett will donate his kidney for transplant to Hassen on Nov. 8 at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).

“There are no words to describe it,” said Hassen. “It’s a completely selfless act. There are humans out there who can really change your world, and he is one of them.”

Hassen said he met Hackett last year when he trained him to tend bar in Penticton.

When Hassen put the word out after his kidney disease took a turn for the worse a year ago, Hackett was one of those who responded.

“You need a kidney? I’ve got two,” Hassen says, paraphrasing Hackett’s response.

Not only that, about a dozen others came forward as possible matches. After months of blood and tissue testing, Hackett was found to be a perfect match, Hassen said.

The problem is, the recovery from the operation can take about a year, and Hassen expects to be off work for seven months or more.

He’s currently living with his parents, Mat and Ev Hassen, in Osoyoos.

But medical employment insurance only covers 15 weeks, and the hospitality industry doesn’t normally offer the kinds of benefits that certain unionized occupations do.

So Hassen is turning to fundraising.

People in the service industry who experience long-term illnesses normally need draw down savings if they have them, or have a good support system.

It’s to fill that gap for hospitality workers that the BC Hospitality Foundation was formed. And that charitable organization has agreed to match dollar for dollar whatever Hassen is able to fundraise, up to $5,000.

Hassen said the Owl Pub has offered to help. The result is a burgers and beer event on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Owl Pub.

Tickets are $20 per person and include entry, a burger and a beer, along with a chance to participate in prize draws.

All proceeds will support Hassen in his recovery.

Hassen has been a Type 1 diabetic for three decades and he always knew he could have kidney problems.

“We were watching the kidneys over the last 15 years,” he said. “It took a downturn about two years ago when I was working in Vancouver. My decision to move back home was to be closer to my parents and be closer to the kidney team in Penticton, who have been absolutely amazing.”

It became a case of looking for an organ transplant or facing dialysis. Hassen said it took him a couple weeks to absorb the news and discuss it with his parents. Then he reached out to friends on social media.

Normally the progress in the four to five months of testing and screening between donor and recipient is anonymous, but as a friend, Hackett kept Hassen updated.

A few weeks ago, Hackett sent Hassen a Facebook message telling him the Nov. 8 date for the operation. A couple days later, VGH confirmed it.

Hassen said he was especially glad to be able to speak to Judy Sloan, an Osoyoos resident who received a kidney transplant three years ago.

“She was really helpful,” said Hassen. “I had the kidney team, but it was really cool to be able to speak to someone who had actually gone through the experience. She told me what’s going to happen. The first six months are crazy, matching up the antirejection drugs. But it’s going to be great and it’s good to see somebody who went through the process.”

Sloan isn’t the only Osoyoos resident who has had a kidney transplant in recent years. In 2013, a group of past and potential kidney recipients and donors formed under the banner “Share Your Spare.” They meet regularly at the Kemp Harvey Craig accounting office.

Lynn Cunningham, a member of that group, received a kidney from a cadaver donor, having previously advertised in her search for a match.

Brian Rawlings originally planned to donate a kidney to Sloan, but he ended up donating one of his kidneys to another Osoyoos woman, Julie Wolter, in 2015.Terry Craig, of Kemp Harvey Craig, had earlier donated one of his kidneys to his wife, Laura. When the group formed in 2013, they set as their goal to find kidneys for any Osoyoos resident who needed one. They promoted the message that a person only needs one kidney to live, and therefore can be a live donor.

As well, patients often do better from a live donor than from a kidney harvested from a deceased person.

The Osoyoos Coyotes got on board, putting patches on their jerseys proclaiming, “Be the Kidney.”

Rawlings said he hopes to be able to speak at Hassen’s fundraiser on Oct. 14 at the Owl Pub.

Osoyoos has already developed a name for itself as a community that promotes kidney transplant awareness.

With Hassen added to the list of Osoyoos kidney recipients, this community may indeed become the Kidney Capital of Canada, Rawlings suggests.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

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