Last Christmas, Michael Delorme and his wife Rebecca received heartbreaking news that would see them searching for an organ donor for the better part of the next year; Michael, whose kidneys started failing a couple of years before, needed a transplant.
Several months later, Michael’s kidney function deteriorated even further — from 11 per cent to less than five per cent — and he was told he needed dialysis while the family waited for a new kidney.
Now, the private contractor takes time away from his young family and busy work schedule to receive dialysis treatments three days a week. Each treatment is a four-hour commitment.
“Life is upside down,” Michael said. “Everything is slower. I raise three children and I have a wife and it’s go, go, go, go, go, and I can’t go anymore.”
Both of Michael’s parents were disqualified as possible donors for health reasons. Worried and not wanting to wait any longer, Rebecca took to Facebook in March, posting in as many online groups and pages she could find.
That’s when Shanda McCutcheon came into their lives.
“I just love him so much and I was determined to do anything I could to find him a kidney,” Rebecca said. “I just happened to post on one page where a wonderful lady found it.”
That post was only on the page for a couple of minutes before it was removed by the administrator — Rebecca suspects it violated the terms of the page.
But those three minutes were long enough for McCutcheon, who saw it and volunteered one of her own kidneys before Michael even made it through the process of being put on a transplant list.
“One post on her Facebook, on a page that didn’t have approval to actually put it on, and some wonderful angel that we don’t know came forward,” Michael said.
“It was just a familiar nudge, I guess, of the heart strings…that this is what I wanted to do,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon is a strong advocate for organ donation, explaining she encountered it a lot in her personal and professional lives. When her mother died 17 years ago, she was a multi-organ and tissue donor. Through advocacy work in the years since, she’s met several recipients and saw how their lives were changed thanks to transplants.
“The fact that Mike had young children at home and the struggle that he’s had,” McCutcheon said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to meet other recipients and I know a little bit about the ordeal those health issues bring and how hard it is.
“My daughter’s grown and raised and I thought he could have the chance to do the same with his kids.”
From complete strangers to dear friends
For live donation, it was a requirement for McCutcheon to meet Michael and Rebecca before donating her organ, or McCutcheon’s kidney could have been directed to another recipient.
The trio met over coffee and exchanged life stories, starting their donor-recipient journey that soon developed into a special friendship.
“I really like them; like we clicked right away. I met them first, then I met Mike’s mom and dad,” McCutcheon said. “Mike feels like another big brother for me.”
Just two months ago, confirmation came that McCutcheon was a match. She and Michael are in the end stages of all their testing and waiting for a date to be determined — which Michael hopes will come in less than a couple of months’ time.
Michael admits that when McCutcheon first reached out, he didn’t know how bad his kidneys were and what kind of toll the dialysis would take on him and his family.
“I can say that since I’ve been on dialysis, mentally, I am so grateful. But at that time I was grateful, but I didn’t know how bad I needed that kidney.
“How grateful I am to have that second chance at life, really.”
Taking it further than organ donation
Not only has McCutcheon offered to donate her kidney, she’s also created an online fundraiser to help the family offset their costs when Michael has his surgery and is off work.
“I feel like just even a little bit…I can take a little bit of that financial pressure off,” she said.
For Michael and Rebecca, it’s just another thing their “angel” McCutcheon has done to completely change their lives.
“There’s a lot of rays of hope,” Michael said. “I’m very grateful for what’s coming and like I said, it all comes down to, in my opinion… how much better life will be.”
“Pinch me! I need to wake up,” Rebecca said.
“I just want people to know that stories like this do happen — we’re living proof of it.”
— With files from Global’s Tony Tighe