'Please Help!': Lawn sign in Guelph asks for gift of life
Debbie Jamison is going the distance to try and find an organ donor, or at least her signs are.
On Paisley Road in Guelph, a lawn sign reads: “Kidney Needed! Debbie Jamison is in desperate need of a live kidney donor. Please Help!”
At the bottom of the sign is her personal email account.
“There’s a lot of curiosity by the neighbours in the local area," said lawn owner Dennis O'Reilly.
It’s a plea that gets right to the point.
“I was born with a kidney disease and it’s just progressively gotten worse over the years and I am now in need of intervention,” Jamison said.
Jamison is only in her mid-40s, but her doctor told her in February that she only has 12to 18 months left until she would need an intervention.
That leaves her with two choices: start dialysis or get a kidney transplant from a living donor.
Dr. Norman Muirhead is the president of the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Ontario Branch. Muirhead could not comment on any individual case but says dialysis is usually a last resort.
“Usually people start dialysis when they are down to around their last five to 10 per cent of their kidney function," he said. “At that point, patients are often quite ill. They are often not able to eat. They often feel tired and washed out and quite unwell.”
He says once a patient starts dialysis it can alleviate some of those symptoms but it can also dramatically hinder a person’s quality of life.
They are limited to what they can eat or physically do. The process is also extremely time-consuming, taking up multiple hours a day, multiple days a week leaving most patients unable to work.
Muirhead shared statistics from Trillium Gift of Life, which works side by side with the Kidney Foundation to match donors.
Right now in Ontario, there are 1115 people on the waitlist for a kidney.
Another 42 people are waiting for a combined kidney/pancreas transplant.
Muirhead says the average wait time to receive a transplant from a deceased person is about four years.
“Which is quite a long waiting time,” Muirhead said.
But in order to be eligible for the deceased waitlist, the patient must already be on dialysis for some time.
Muirhead says there were 628 kidney and kidney/pancreas transplants in Ontario in 2020. Just over one-quarter of those organs were from living donors.
Muirhead says if patients are able to find a living donor who is a match, the process is much faster versus waiting on the list.
That’s why Jamison is hoping to skip dialysis and receive a kidney from a living donor.
But a biological match that is rare.
“Unfortunately it’s hereditary, so my family is out of the question to donate. They carry the same genetic disposition,” Jamison said.
Jamieson also noted she does not have children because of the fear of passing along the disease.
O’Reilly and Jamison met because their cottages are in the same neighbourhood near Port Dover.
“We had a long discussion with Debbie one evening and started to understand a little bit more of the kidney donation process and what’s involved and she mentioned the idea of having signs,” O’Reilly said.
For him, it was a no-brainer. Living on Guelph’s busy Paisley Street, he hoped it might get a lot of attention.
Many of Jamison’s other cottage neighbours took signs home too and shared them with their friends. Her plea for an organ donor can be spotted from St. Catharines to Barrie and beyond. There is one sign in Winnipeg, Manitoba and another in Noel, Nova Scotia.
Jamison can be reached at email@example.com
HOW TO BECOME AN ORGAN DONOR
Most people are born with two kidneys. A person can live a healthy life with just one but may be limited to certain things. It is suggested that a person with a single kidney does not take part in contact sports.
If you are interested in learning more about how to become a kidney donor, Dr. Muirhead says living donors must be in good health and willing to go through a fairly lengthy process.
Candidates must not have kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease or hepatitis, or any sign of high blood pressure
To see if you are eligible the first step is to fill out a form and the first thing that donors and recipients must have in common is blood type.
Muirhead says once a living donor is approved as a match it then takes about six to 12 months to prepare for and proceed with the surgery.
“Kidney donation is the most frequent type of living organ donation and is the most successful of all transplant procedures," the Kidney Foundation of Canada says.
The provincial government also offers The Living Organ Donor Expense Reimbursement Program which will reimburse some out-of-pocket expenses which may include travel when donors live far away from recipients.
A willing living organ donor does need to know or be associated with a recipient, organizations such as the Trillium Gift of Life Network or beadonor.ca help to match applicable volunteers with recipients.
The public is also encouraged to sign up through Service Ontario to be an organ donor in the event of their death.
If you are unsure if you have already registered as a donor, you can check here.