Monday, 5 December 2011

Kidney disease: life on a list

Imagine being a mother who is told she passed on a condition to her two sons that will cause their kidneys to fail in the prime of their lives.

Then imagine the boys -- seven years apart-- having to have kidney transplants within a year of each other.

Imagine again that both transplants failed.

Francois-Rene Dussault was telling me the story yesterday, as part of a mini-documentary video shoot. About how his mother was told when he was three that he would lose both his kidneys by age thirty, and how he was, in effect, given a life sentence while still a todder.

He's a remarkable man. You would love to meet him. He's a successful lawyer at Transport Canada. He's 41, in good physical shape, and he looks ten years younger.

You would never know he has lived his life "rock and roll" as he puts it, forced to endure an endless roller coaster ride which has taken him from despair to hope and back again.

He was able to live a reasonably normal life until he was 29. That's when the doctor's diagnosis kicked in.

You will lose both your kidneys by thirty, the doctor predicted back when he was three.

Don't you hate it when doctors are right?

His little brother was 23 when his kidneys failed. Unlike Francois-Rene, his brother didn't have to languish on dialysis waiting for a kidney; he got one straight away. And lost it the same day.

Francois-Rene was luckier with his first transplant. It lasted two years before it failed and he was forced back on dialysis for nearly five more years, when he got another kidney.

His second transplant nearly didn't take. He told me that soon after his operation, he was forced back on dialysis because the kidney wasn't functioning as well as doctors had hoped.

Francois-Rene said that was the last straw. He lost it. Started a screaming wailing tantrum.

"I have a transplant. Please don't put me back on that machine," he told the nurses.

False alarm. The kidney took.

That was two years ago. Today Francois-Rene leads a near normal life. So does his brother, who also got a second kidney.

The family celebrated last year by taking a cruise at Christmas.

The two boys who didn't need presents. They had already been the gift that keeps on giving.

A chance at a normal life.

What's a normal life? Being able to drink more than one litre of liquid a day. The ability to eat a healthy meal, complete with whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The ability to exercise.

And a life not attached to a machine at the hospital three days a week.

Francois-Rene doesn't take his good health for granted. But he knows that some day this kidney could fail -- hopefully twenty years hence. At that time, he will be looking for another donor. Otherwise, he will once again face a life attached to a droning machine.

Next week, he's going to Asia to see the sights he has been denied all these years. He'll be spending three months in places where kidney disease is a death sentence, where people cannot afford dialysis, where kidney transplants are rare.

It's on these trips that Francois-Rene sees that he's one lucky guy.

He lives in Canada where dialysis and transplantation are a right of citizenship.

We should all be grateful.

Many of us lead small lives and take for granted our ability to perform our bathroom duties effortlessly.

We should all meet people like Francois-Rene.

I'm glad I did.

I'm also glad that I'm an organ donor.

Perhaps if my life meets a tragic end, it won't be for nothing.

Maybe I can help somebody like him.

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