A Vancouver Island woman says helping save another man’s life helped save her own broken heart.
Pam Rankel of Campbell River has dealt with more loss than any parent should. The 60-year-old lost her first son to complications in childbirth and her youngest son a decade ago in a car crash. She’s also lost a grandson.
“Grief of losing a child is sometimes almost unlivable,” she told Global News.
In the aftermath of her youngest son’s death, she turned to alcohol, a battle that took years for her to win.
Then, early last year she read a news article about Cole Derry, a 37-year-old Okanagan man in desperate need of a kidney.
“I just really felt my youngest son Michael zooming around me in my heart saying come on mom, help this kid out. You don’t need two kidneys, you only need one,” she said.
“So I connected with the family to see if I could help out. Now I didn’t realize it, but Cole had a rare blood type, and surprisingly I matched.”
Derry has type-1 diabetes and is on constant dialysis.
In 2020, he’d received a double transplant of a pancreas and kidney, but complications and infections soon cropped up.
Both transplants failed, nearly killing him and leaving him hospitalized for most of the year. The failed kidney was removed, leaving Derry back on the transplant wait list and facing between five and eight more years of dialysis.
“And then Pam contacted us,” he said.
“It kind of blew our minds, because we had never met, and there’s not a lot of people who are willing to donate an organ to somebody they don’t even know.”
The two met for the first time last summer when Rankel travelled to Lumby.
“And I knew right away all of this was meant to be. He was the exact same age as my (surviving) son and he looked quite sick,” she said.
“I felt like I was kind of home again … it was a wonderful feeling because I just looked at him, looked in his eyes and I just knew I could make a difference and he looked at me, I think, knowing the same thing and that finally he had a chance.”
After months of tests and preparation, the pair underwent surgery on Nov. 21, with Derry successfully receiving one of Rankel’s kidneys.
“It was remarkable. After I got the transplant I felt better than I had in five or six years,” Derry said.
“It was night and day difference to how I had felt.”
Derry remains in hospital under observation and said he’s hopeful he’ll be released by the end of January.
He and Rankel have also stayed in regular contact. She told Global News she’s looking forward to having him and his wife Karen in her life, and watching them grow older in a way she couldn’t with her own sons.
“I couldn’t save my own children or grandson, I just didn’t want to see another family go through what I went through, because I got very sick with grief,” she said.
“So part of this journey hasn’t been just helping to save Cole, it’s really helped to save my heart.”
Derry said he’s hoping the attention his story has generated will put the spotlight on the vital need for organ donors.
He encouraged everyone to sign up as a donor in the case of death.
But said he’s even more hopeful others will agree to be live donors — a process he said is often misunderstood.
“People don’t realize how many people are in need of organs, and especially the kidney and the liver because you can be a live donor and still live a complete, normal life with donating those organs,” he said.
“She theoretically saved my life. To me she’s a hero, she doesn’t think she’s a hero, but she made a huge impact on my life.”
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