February 24, 2016 5:46 pm
Updated: February 28, 2016 1:31 pm

‘I love to help people’: Ontario mom donates liver to fellow hockey parent

Vanessa Smith and her six kids.

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A St. Catharines, Ont. mother-of-six is on the mend after giving up 63 per cent of her liver to a man she doesn’t really know.

“If we’d see each other out we’d wave hi,” said 35-year-old Vanessa Smith of Peter Brouwer, who helped coach her nine-year-old’s hockey team last year.

It was at one of their kids’ games this past November that Smith learned Brouwer needed a transplant, and immediately offered to be a donor.

“I love to help people however I can.”

She figured her O-blood type would make her a good match.

“His wife kind of looked at me like I was crazy,” Smith recalled.

“Every time I would see Peter at the rink he would come up to me and say, ‘You can’t do this… your kids need you. I would just say, ‘you know, Peter, your kids need you. I have six, you have two.'”

Vanessa Smith with Peter


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All she did was ask her mother if she’d be able to help look after the kids when she was in hospital.

After undergoing a battery of tests — everything from bloodwork, MRIs, CTs and chest X-rays — she was ready to tell her kids what was happening.

Smith spared her youngest ones (aged 3, 4 and 6) the details. Her 15-year-old daughter wants to be a doctor, so she was on board with the decision to donate. Her nine-year-old had the most questions — like whether his mom could die.

“[It’s] obviously the worst question to answer from your child.”

She told him anyone can technically die anytime.

Her 11-year-old, whom Smith describes as her “little protector,” surprised her with his reaction.

“‘My mom’s going to die a hero,'” Smith remembers him saying with a grin on his face, “which kind of scared the sh** out of me a little.”

“It was actually perfect timing for such a serious conversation.”

It wasn’t until she was being wheeled into the operating room on Jan. 11 that Smith started to worry about everything that could go wrong.

“That’s when you really think of the reality of it. A human error could really set things bad here.”

Fortunately, all went well for both her and Brouwer, who saw an instant improvement in his condition after surgery.

As Smith’s liver regenerates, her road to recovery has often been filled with fatigue. But the pain has been nothing compared to childbirth, she says.

“There’s no pain that can compare to a contraction.”

And aside from a big scar, she’s almost feeling good as new.

vanessa-smith-scar

“There are so many things in life that don’t matter. The cars we drive, or who has what purse or shoes — none of that matters. If you’re not  100 per cent happy doing what you’re doing, there’s no point in doing it.”

In Smith’s case, that’s meant quitting her job. She hopes her story will inspire others to make a difference in someone else’s life.

“There are so many ways to help.”

It can be as simple as donating blood, she suggests.

READ MORE: Canada’s organ donor rate lags behind other countries. How do you fix it?

Organ donation: Everything you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask)

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