When Donna Middleton reconnected with an old friend from high school on Facebook in the fall of 2015, neither of them had any idea that it would change their lives.
Middleton, who lives in Cache Creek, got back in touch with Jana Tremblay, who lives in Castlegar, more than two decades after last seeing her friend. The two had met in grade seven and been fast friends through high school graduation, at which time Middleton’s family moved away from Castlegar.
While catching up on what had happened since then, Middleton discovered that Tremblay’s son Zach, who was then 12, was in desperate need of a kidney.
Until that time he had been able to keep his disease under control with medication, but when he hit puberty his kidney function deteriorated dramatically. He has been taking 30 pills a day, and undergoing dialysis for 11 hours every night, since then.
Tremblay had set up a Facebook page called “Zach Needs a Kidney … Like Yesterday!”, where she kept people informed about her son’s progress. She also asked for people to consider becoming a living kidney donor, and see if they were a match for Zach. Middleton was one of the people who stepped up.
“I signed up in January 2016,” she says. “I was on the bone marrow donor list until I aged out of it, and was thinking about doing something. I started reading the stories on Jana’s Facebook page, and thought ‘I can do this.’”
Middleton did not tell Tremblay she was being tested to see if she was match until December 2016. “It’s not common to actually match the person you chose,” she notes. “And Zach was always my first choice.”
At the end of February this year Middleton got a phone call saying she was a match. On the same day, Tremblay received a call saying that a donor had been found for Zach. “I got a message from Jana saying ‘We have a match, and I have a feeling it’s you.’ There were many, many tears.”
Zach, his parents, and his brother were the only ones who knew until March 14, when Zach celebrated his 14th birthday. At that point, the family told extended family and friends who had gathered for the occasion the good news. The transplant will take place on June 1.
Middleton says that while the process has been a long one, she has had support all along the way. “You have to fill out a crazy long questionnaire, and then there are more than 20 pages of questions.” She had to go to St. Paul’s once, spending one day doing tests and one day meeting with a team of specialists, who continued to check in with her every step of the way. “They ask if you still want to do this, which is why it takes so long.”
All the other lab tests were able to be done at the Ashcroft Hospital. “Having the tests here made a huge difference.”
Middleton says her family has been tremendously supportive of her decision right from the start. “I couldn’t do this without them. One of my sons said to me ‘I really admire what you’re doing, but I think you’re crazy.’”
She notes that she could have remained anonymous, and considered that option. “I don’t like a lot of attention, but I didn’t want the family to have to wonder. It would take away from their excitement. And I wanted to promote the living donor program.
“We’re all walking around with two kidneys, and you can function just fine with one. The other one is a spare. I want people to know that this is an option, and that you can help someone.”