In just a few months last year, Langley’s Shelagh Brennan went from planning new trips and adventures to scheduling endless rounds of dialysis, after both her kidneys abruptly failed.
“I went skydiving for my 65th birthday,” Brennan said. “Just feeling great.”
She was busy with plans to tick items off her travel bucket list with husband Bryan Frazer, and was a Blockwatch captain and was taking part in the Adopt A Street program for her Murrayville neighbourhood.
That was in the summer of 2019, not long after a routine checkup with her doctor had shown a slight reduction in kidney function.
Brennan also visited Ireland with her brother Kevin in September, meeting some relatives there for the first time. She and her husband Bryan were planning for a winter cruise.
But by the end of the year, she wasn’t feeling great, feeling difficulty concentrating and with memory issues.
She was referred to a nephrologist and had a biopsy and ultrasound. On Nov. 4 she was told things were not looking good.
“He said both your kidneys are not working, and we have no known reason why,” said Brennan.
On Dec. 17, after some bloodwork, her doctor ordered her to head straight to the hospital.
“I was started on dialysis right away.”
Her kidneys had ceased to function.
Brennan spent the next week in Surrey Memorial, only released on Christmas Day after she had a subclavian catheter installed in her chest for future dialysis.
Since then, Brennan’s life has revolved around two things – getting to her dialysis appointments, which take place two to three times a week, and getting ready for a hoped-for kidney transplant.
Brennan’s brother Kevin has already volunteered to be a donor for his older sister, but it isn’t known yet if he’s a compatible donor.
So Brennan took a chance on social media. She posted on the Murrayville and Brookswood community Facebook pages.
“I am asking for potential kidney donors with the hopes that someone may consider coming forward to be tested as a possible match,” she wrote. “There is NO pressure for anyone to be tested! Donors do not have to be a relative or even exact blood type to donate.”
The response has been very positive, she said.
Because people can live with just one kidney, it is one of the few organs for which living donor programs are common. There are even programs in which multiple people can be matched up in a “ring,” if would-be family donors don’t match their relative, but do match someone else in need of a kidney in Canada.
Brennan is hoping her plea helps others as well.
In 2018, there were 4,300 Canadians on waiting lists for an organ. Of those, 78 per cent were waiting for a kidney, according to the Kidney Foundation. A living donor program seeks to help those in need of a kidney find a donor.
Several prominent locals have had living donor transplants, including former Langley Township councillor Charlie Fox, who received a kidney from his wife.
Brennan is still waiting to see if her brother is compatible, and she has few other options.
“I don’t have any other relatives in this country,” she said.
Meanwhile, she’s still dealing with the grind of frequent medical appointments and new dietary restrictions.
A dialysis appointment at Surrey Memorial means getting up at 5 a.m., and relying on a ride from either her husband Bryan or a friend or neighbour.
“We have amazing people who stepped up,” said Frazer.
“People have been very good to us,” said Brennan. “It’s amazing.”
She gets home from the dialysis at about noon and it leaves her tired for the rest of the day.
Brennan said her husband has been a hero, taking on the task of cooking for her when she’s now highly restricted in the foods she can eat.
That’s made all the more difficult because he has diabetes, so the bland, pale foods such as chicken, rice, and white bread she’s supposed to stick to aren’t necessarily good for him.
If she does get a kidney donation, whether from her brother or from someone else, Brennan said it would be a huge change.
“I would get my life back,” she said. “Right now, my life is dialysis and seeing doctors and going for tests.”
She hopes to encourage people to donate to other patients as well.
“That would be lovely for other people,” she said.
Anyone interested in finding out about the Living Kidney Donor Program can call 1-855-875-5185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.