BC Children’s Hospital is marking the 300th kidney transplant at its facility in Vancouver, the only centre in the province that performs organ transplants for children.
The hospital on Oak Street performs between 15 and 18 heart and kidney transplants each year.
Four years ago, Kathleen Roberts of Kamloops was one of those transplant patients when she received a kidney donated from her dad.
She turned 19 this year.
When she was a year old, Roberts was diagnosed with cystinosis, a multi-system genetic disorder that affects a body’s cells, tissues and organs. It first affects the kidneys and eyes.
When she was 15 years old and taking 78 pills each day in an attempt to slow down the disease, Roberts went into kidney failure and received her life-saving — and life-changing — transplant.
“When I was in kidney failure, I was sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day,” she said. “I was 82 pounds and five feet tall. Oh my God, I was so thin.”
Since the transplant, Roberts’ life has changed tremendously, but she finds it challenging to explain the transformation to healthy people.
“It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been through that,” she said. “I don’t think you realize how bad it gets until after the transplant.”
Roberts has been visiting BC Children’s Hospital since she was a year old, noting she feels she was, in a way, raised there.
Certainly the time spent there and the quality of the care Roberts received helped to inspire her current life trajectory — she is pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing at UBC-Okanagan in Kelowna.
The first pediatric kidney transplant in the province took place at BC Children’s Hospital in 1993. Twenty-six years later, following that 300th transplant, Dr. Tom Blydt-Hansen sees the milestone as an opportunity to consider how far medicine has come and how far it can go.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to take stock of where we are in terms of what we do, the care we’ve been able to provide the province, the success of some of the kids that have been through our transplant program and the lives they are living right now,” said Blydt-Hansen, director of the multi-organ transplant program at BC Children’s Hospital.
“It also gives us a chance to look back on what we were doing and how kids were doing maybe 15 or 20 years ago.”
Roberts was lucky to have a donor willing to provide her with a kidney. This meant she could skip the waiting list on which many kids find themselves.
But transplanted kidneys only last for between 10 or 15 years, so Roberts knows that when she needs a new organ, it may take a little longer to receive.
That is why she is encouraging everyone to sign up as donors.
“I know so many people who are on the wait list or have passed away on the wait list,” Roberts said. “And, in the future, it’s very possible I’ll have to go on the wait list.
“It’s so life-altering to get that organ. It just takes a few seconds. Why not save someone’s life?”
The gratitude a recipient and their loved ones feel following an organ transplant is substantial, Blydt-Hansen said.
“There’s a lot of respect and compassion for the families who have made that difficult decision to have a loved one become an organ donor,” he said.
To become an organ donor and to learn more about the process, go online to transplant.bc.ca.