While most have a simple routine for getting ready for bed, it is anything but that for Teresa Atkinson — and her life depends on it.
A mile of tubing, beepers, containers and needles are prepped for her all-night dialysis. Her kidneys shut down in 1984, and after two kidney transplant surgeries she spends most of her nights hooked up to a nocturnal dialysis machine.
On the surface she looks like any other person. She is not resigned to feeling sorry for herself and is even able to vacation away from home, thanks to the creativity of her husband who adapted the electrical and plumbing systems in a second-hand travel trailer to accommodate her dialysis equipment. But she would not wish this lifestyle to anyone.
“I am living proof that organ donation and kidney research work. I believe I am here today only because of the advances made to kidney treatments. When I was diagnosed 28 years ago, they predicted I would not live past 40. This year I will celebrate my 50th birthday,” said Atkinson. “With further research and advancements, who knows? I hope to enjoy many more years to come watching my grandchildren grow up and retiring with my husband. Two things I never thought I would see.”
It is what drives Atkinson to spend much of her free time volunteering to get the message out that kidney disease kills and organ donation saves lives. And why Sept. 23 is so important to her. That is the date of the fifth annual Penticton Kidney Walk, starting at Riverside Village shopping centre, which is designed to raise awareness of the need for more organ donors and encourages everyone to walk, run and/or support the cause.
Annick Lim, who also has kidney disease, said 85 per cent of British Columbians surveyed are in favour of organ donation, but only 18 per cent of residents in the province are registered as organ donors. She said the wait for a kidney organ donation is up to five years, and 12 to 15 people a year die while waiting for an organ donation. It has been the Penticton kidney volunteer’s mission to see the registration numbers rise.
“Penticton’s numbers are higher than average and this is because of the work of the volunteers getting out in the community. We are at 26 per cent and that is a big, big deal,” said Lim. “Organ donation is about your wishes and you making the decision and not leaving it for your loved ones. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Both of the volunteers said age, physical body type and even some pre-existing conditions do not mean you are not a suitable organ donor.
“There are people out there with HIV, hepatitis that need transplants. It also has nothing to do with your age, nothing to do with what you look like on the outside because you could have healthy organs inside. You just never know, it is a huge misconception out there,” said Lim. “If I tell you that you can potentially save eight lives tomorrow if you passed away, would you? People always answer yes. If that is the case, then go register today and tell your family.”
A Twin Lakes family recently found themselves in the position to save lives after Guy Du Vent died in a mountain biking accident in Naramata. He was a registered organ donor and his wife received a call from a member of the transplant team shortly after his death saying he had just saved four lives.
Penticton’s Terry Craig is a different kind of donor. As a living donor, he passed his healthy kidney on to his wife in 2005. In August, he completed the Ultraman in Penticton — swimming 10 kilometres, biking 420.2 km and running 84. 3 km — proving that living donors can continue their regular lives, while saving others.
Registration for the Penticton Kidney Walk is at 9 a.m. on Sunday, with the walk starting at 10 a.m. Entertainment, a free barbecue and refreshments will be available at the walk which starts at Riverside Village and goes down to the Peach concession on Okanagan Lake and back. A silent auction will take place and prizes will also be given away. If you would like to donate to the auction, help volunteer or take part in the walk, visit www.PentictonKidneyWalk.ca or contact Atkinson at 250-809-5804.