Kathy Urban was diagnosed with kidney polycystic disease and in 1999 was told she would need dialysis within a year.
She said getting the prognosis was like being hit in the face. She remembers leaving her doctor's office that cold December day and crying the entire drive home.
"All of a sudden, I felt like my life was limited, that I'd be hooked up to a machine and that you just can't do everything that you want. Your life revolves around that machine, that dialysis machine to keep you alive," said Urban.
Urban was lucky enough to receive a donated kidney 15 years ago, and said not a single day passes that she doesn't think about the family who made the decision that changed her life.
Urban still gets emotional when she thinks about the donor and that person's family.
"It's such a gift and when I think about them and what they had to go through for me to receive that gift," said Urban.
Urban sends a letter to the family every year on the anniversary of the day of her operation, thanking them and letting them know how much it's meant for the quality of life she is able to live now.
"People don't realize how much that kidney does for you, one kidney," said Urban.
Ubran was on hand Monday for Transplant Manitoba's kick-off to National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week and is calling on more Manitobans to sign up on the province's online organ and tissue donor registry.
Make it clear you want to donate
The province no longer uses the paper card that previously accompanied Manitoba driver's licences, opting now to use signupforlife.ca. There are currently more than 19,000 Manitobans on the online registry but Transplant Manitoba said they still see — on average — 49 per cent of families choosing not to donate when the time comes.
Faisal Siddiqui, a physician with the Gift of Life program, said that 90 per cent of Manitobans believe in donating. The discrepancy is because people aren't taking the time to properly communicate their wishes.
"Sometimes we're just busy, we're caught up with other things in life, and we also see our death as something that, 'I don't want to have to think about today.' So we haven't thought about it. Especially among younger people. That's I think where some of the gap is. It's just people haven't gotten to the next step of accepting the idea that, you know, this might happen sometime soon and I should probably just register my intent online," said Siddiqui.
In 2014, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority introduced a referral policy that calls for all Winnipeg intensive care units and emergency room programs to contact the Gift of Life program if the patient meets organ donation criteria and after the decision has been made to withdraw life support. Since adopting the policy, the percentage of all potential donors actually referred has risen from 35.1% in 2014 to 74.3% in 2016.
Siddiqui said the increase has been promising but it's still important for people to communicate their wishes with their family and friends.
"That's an opinion that they share on the inside but they don't always let their family and friends know," said Siddiqui.
Urban hopes sharing her story will encourage others to sign up to save lives and tell their family and friends what they want done with their organs when they die.
The difference it made to her life was essentially everything.
"I was told basically before my transplant that my body was using everything just to keep [me] alive," Urban said. "And then after the transplant [there was] no more anemia, no more high blood pressure. I lost all the fluids that [were] causing all the swelling. And just everything is different."