A Victoria mom is back on the BC Transplant list after her first kidney transplant didn’t take. In British Columbia, 674 people are on the list, waiting for donated organs — 538 of them are waiting for a kidney transplant.
In May, 31-year-old Drielle Tousignant underwent surgery when a friend of a friend donated her kidney. Tousignant first learned her kidneys were failing in December 2013, after a strep infection travelled from her throat to her kidneys. Chemo treatment helped bring her kidney function back up to 35 per cent, but they kept declining.
Tousignant and her family began looking for kidney donors, putting out the word through social media that she was looking for a match.
“How do you ask somebody to give a kidney?” Tousignant said, adding that she understands donation can be a stressful and scary process, especially if people don’t know how it works. She tried not to get her hopes up when an acquaintance said she was getting tested, because so many people hadn’t completed the process.
Then the woman tested as a match.
It wasn’t until after the transplant surgery in May, and the ongoing testing following it, that Tousignant found out something was wrong with her new kidney transplant. A rare blood clot complication made the surgery unsuccessful, and Tousignant was in shock. She had to have the donated kidney removed, and is now back on the deceased transplant list, which means she could get a kidney from someone listed as an organ donor after they die.
More than 1.3 million people have registered to become organ donors since 1997, and the Medical Director for Transplant Services in B.C., Dr. David Landsberg, said the deceased donor rates in the province are currently good and improving.
“Right now, about 40 per cent of our transplants are living donors. Sixty per cent are deceased donors. We’ve done well with our deceased donor transplants, however our waiting list is significant,” Landsberg said. “I don’t see us meeting our need with deceased donor transplants. We’re never going to get to the point where there’s no waiting list.”
The best option, he said, is finding a living donor and getting the transplant before complete kidney failure so the patient can avoid dialysis.
“If you look at percentages, living donors have a better outcome than deceased donors. The reasons are, I think, related to the ensured excellent quality of the living donor. With a living donor, you can spend as much time as you need to do as many tests as you need in order to assure yourself that the donor’s kidney is perfect,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t discover their true quality until after the fact. It’s an emergency, it’s done in the middle of the night. When a living donation is done, it’s planned, it’s elective, it’s controlled.”
Tousignant hasn’t been able to work since her first transplant in May, but still hopes to return to work. Her kidney function was only 12 per cent when she was last tested, and since they can’t filter the toxins in her body, Tousignant has to constantly monitor her diet.
On Oct. 31, Tousignant will have surgery to start dialysis for the first time. The single mother is hoping it will give her more energy to care for her 10-year-old son.
“It’s hard living with this disease being a single mom. The simplest things are so hard because you’re so tired,” she said, adding that the effect her illness has on her young son is the hardest part.
“I’m hoping more people will sign up to be an organ donor. A lot of people I know aren’t on that list. I think the wait list would be a lot less if people would do that. If I could donate something, I 100 per cent would, but with my health as it is, I can’t,” Tousignant said.
Landsberg added a deceased donor is still a good option, and better than dialysis.
“I want to give a strong message that a living donor is great, but I don’t want to give the message that deceased donation is second-rate. It’s not. There are people alive today who got deceased donor transplants 30 years ago who are still doing great.”
He recommends anyone who wants to be an organ donor after they pass away to register their wishes now so their family is aware and doctors know in the case of an emergency.
“If you’re struck by a story and you want to consider living donation, we’re happy to discuss that,” Landsberg said.
BC Transplant Services can help patients find living donors with outreach and tools found at www.transplant.bc.ca. Those interested in donating can also find information at that website.