Family knows about giving the gift of life

Kidney disease affects one in 10 Canadians and for Robert Ferguson that statistic is all too real

Kidney disease affects one in 10 Canadians and for Robert Ferguson, that statistic is all too real.

Four years ago he was the transplant recipient of a kidney, while his sister who also has kidney disease had to wait for hers.

“My kidneys were dying, I was dying,” said Ferguson, who is from Summerland.

It wasn’t just anyone’s kidney he was getting. The person offering him a new lease on life was his brother, Ken Ferguson. For almost a year Ken went through testing for both physical and mental health to ensure he was prepared to go ahead with the surgery. He knew one of his siblings would be the recipient, and as things took a turn for the worse for Robert they found they were a match.

“I didn’t have much energy. I had lost 20 to 30 pounds, my life was getting worse,” said Robert. “For my brother, you always are concerned because there is some danger when it is an operation, but on the other hand you are saving a life. He saved my life and for a little short-term pain there was long-term gain, as they say.”

That wasn’t the end to their story. Inspired by the donation of life, Robert’s niece decided to give her kidney to her mom. However, they weren’t a match. It was a twist of fate that another family in Vernon was also in the same situation. As it turns out the two donors matched for each other’s recipient.

Ferguson’s younger brother, Ken, said the small sacrifice of surgery is worth it as he saw his brother regain his life.

“It just was something I felt I could do. There are a lot of people out there waiting, my wife was waiting for 10 years,” said Ken.

March is Kidney Health awareness month and March 9 World Kidney Day, a global wareness initiative aimed at educating people about the realities of kidney disease and the importance of organ donation. This year they are focusing on prevention and the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle to help promote good kidney health.

“Kidneys are as important to your health as your heart or your lungs yet many people are no aware of the essential role these vital organs play in our body,” said Dr. Mike Bevilacqua, nephrologist. “Kidneys essentially do three main jobs: removing waste, regulating water and producing key hormones.”

Kidney disease occurs when kidney damage is present or there is decreased kidney function for a period of three months or more. When this occurs, kidneys can no longer do their important work. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help control or manage blood pressure and blood sugar levels which in turn can help protect your kidneys, said Bevilacqua.

Kidney Foundation of Canada – B.C. and Yukon Branch (South Okanagan chapter) volunteer Annick Lim was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease at 18 months and just celebrated her 18th year with a kidney transplant. She attended her first Kidney Walk fundraiser in 2008.

Related: Penticton woman is the poster child for organ donation

“Since then, I’ve developed a passion for helping people gain the knowledge of the importance of kidney health and how to take care of your kidneys,” said Lim, who will be at the Healthy Living Fair on March 11 at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre . “I’ve also been able to fundraise almost $30,000 since my first walk in 2008.”

While not part of the percentage that have kidney problems due to diabetes or high blood pressure, Lim is still passionate about spreading the message of maintaining kidney health. She often volunteers to encourage people to sign their donor cards. There are currently 634 people waiting for an organ transplant in the province, but only 20 per cent of B.C. residents have registered their organ donation wishes. She said to check your status visit https://register.transplant.bc.ca/.

“Make the decision for yourself and take away the burden to your family and friends,” said Lim.

The Kidney Foundation’s annual door-to-door campaign to raise funds to support kidney research and critical programs and services is held during the month of March. To make a donation visit www.kidney.ca/bc-home or call 1-800-567-8112.

For more information about the organ transplant donation program in B.C., check out the website transplant.bc.ca or follow on Twitter @BC_Transplant.

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