A man from Innisfail, Alta., who kick-started a chain of organ transplants by donating his kidney to a stranger is now trying to help a stranger find a kidney donor.
Dave Kinsella’s journey with organ donation started in March 2018. He saw a billboard for Calgarian Ryan McLennan, who needed a life-saving kidney transplant.
“Every day on my way to work I would see it and think, ‘Boy, somebody should help that guy.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I’m a somebody and I’m pretty healthy. Maybe it’s me.'”
He called the number on the advertisement and headed to Calgary.
“I got tested to see if I was a match for Ryan. I wasn’t,” he said.
But that didn’t deter him. The father continued to go through testing to check his kidneys. He eventually met McLennan and the man who stepped up to be McLennan’s kidney donor, Tony Timmins of Airdrie.
McLennan asked Kinsella if he would consider donating to Mike Gerroir, someone in Edmonton who also needed a kidney.
Kinsella didn’t hesitate to say yes. This time, he was a match.
“You’re well informed throughout the whole process. You can say no at any point in the process. You’re in total control,” Kinsella explained.
“They take our blood samples and run it into a computer and it says, ‘Yeah, you’re a match.’ You can proceed to actual testing.”
‘One thing after another’
Gerroir has needed a kidney for the last six years.
Three days a week, he sits through four hours of dialysis in hospital, getting waste filtered out of his body by a machine because his kidneys don’t work.
“They’re both done and I’ve got to live by the dialysis,” he said.
Gerroir said his kidney failure was a byproduct of having diabetes for decades.
“It’s been one thing after another: eight or nine surgeries, a double bypass, a 14-month infection — a superbug that almost killed me,” he said.
That superbug took him out of the running for a kidney transplant. Gerroir was simply too sick. He said he lost more than 100 pounds in 2019 and saw countless doctors.
Kinsella waited months but things didn’t improve.
“It looked like Mike was going to be ill for quite some time and unable to proceed with the transplant, so I made the decision to go a different route. They found a match for me in southern Alberta,” he said.
Kinsella donated his kidney anonymously through the kidney paired donation program. It allows people who are willing to donate an organ but do not positively match with their loved ones to give to someone else through a chain of matched organs.
When Kinsella kick-started the donation process by offering up his kidney to anyone, it triggered a chain reaction of life-saving transplants from other donors.
Hundreds die waiting for transplants
According to Canadian Blood Services, around 4,400 Canadians are in need of an organ transplant and hundreds die waiting every year.
It said 90 per cent of Canadians support organ donation, however, only 23 per cent have registered to do so.
In Alberta, there are multiple ways to sign up as an organ donor, including through the online Organ and Tissue Donation Registry, visiting a registry office or signing the back of your health-care card.
Kinsella hopes others will step up to donate. He has already healed from the surgery, having donated in January, but now he’s trying to help Gerroir once again. He got the all-clear from the superbug infection just a few months ago.
The two met in person for the first time on Monday.
“Lots of mixed emotions. Happy to meet him. To be honest, there’s some guilt for how things went down,” Kinsella said.
Gerroir said he holds no ill-will towards Kinsella. He understands why he wanted to get the surgery over with.
But Gerroir struggles with the idea of what might have been.
“Dave gave me hope,” Gerroir said, crying.
“I’ve got some decals on my truck, for people to call. I think maybe three people called in four years.”
Gerroir is very weak now and recently started having mini-strokes, which leave him unable to talk temporarily.
His new friend is determined to help him find a donor.
“If everyone or nearly everyone signed up for organ donation, people wouldn’t be on the waiting list. There’d be more than enough,” Kinsella said.
“I just so badly want to find Mike’s hero.”
If you’re interested in donating a kidney to Gerroir, call 780-728-4421.