A Nova Scotia woman with a new lease on life was reunited this Thanksgiving with the sister on P.E.I. who gave her the gift of a life-saving transplant surgery more than two months ago.
Cheryl Castellani, from Hammonds Plains, N.S., met up with her sister, Heather Blouin, on an Island ranch for the weekend - the first time the two had seen each other since leaving a Halifax hospital in July.
"It was the first time since out of the hospital when she left that I had seen her and could hold her and hug her," said Castellani Monday.
"It was a lot to be thankful for and that's why I say it's been one of my best Thanksgivings ever."
Castellani was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease almost 30 years ago. She said her health had declined steadily over the last five years in particular.
Castellani said she became uremic and her kidneys were functioning at just 11 per cent.
"You're nauseated. You have headaches every day. Your bones are aching," she said. "It's a deep bone pain that I can't even describe."
Castellani needed a kidney transplant. Her younger sister "was the first to step up."
"Not only was I a match, but I was a perfect match," said Blouin, from Grand River, P.E.I.
To try to be able to put the feelings and emotions into words, it's nothing anybody would be able to comprehend. - Cheryl Castellani
The operation took place in a Halifax hospital on July 23, 2020.
"When I woke up from surgery, I instantly, instantly felt the best that I had in years," said Castellani.
"It was absolutely amazing. Like as if I had some kind of miracle happen hours before. Which I did."
Doctors told Castellani she couldn't see her sister until she began walking alone.
The next morning, with a catheter in hand, Castellani strutted down the hall, into the elevator and straight into Blouin's room.
"I was over the moon excited about how I had felt and … it was because of her," said Castellani, her voice shaking.
"To try to be able to put the feelings and emotions into words, it's nothing anybody would be able to comprehend."
The sisters headed their separate ways for recovery. Castellani stayed in Nova Scotia and Blouin returned home to Prince Edward Island.
The sky is bluer. The grass is greener. The rooster's crow is prettier. - Cheryl Castellani
This Thanksgiving, the two reunited on a ranch in P.E.I.
"She talks about me being a gift to her and giving her health," said Blouin on Monday. "But the gift of a healthy sister is a gift to me really."
"In ways, it was a benefit to me in putting my life in perspective and what's important in life and how to appreciate what you do have in terms of your health and your family's … There's so much to be thankful for."
Givng a lifetime of health
Moving forward, Blouin said she hopes their story sheds light on the importance of living organ donations — for family members and for strangers.
"It's so temporary, what I've gone though to be able to give a lifetime of health," she said.
"I think if anybody paused and thought about if they had a family member in need, that that would just be the automatic thing that you would do."
Castellani has a similar wish: raising awareness of organ donations so every Maritimer in need of a transplant gets to spend next Thanksgiving with their families too.
"The sky is bluer. The grass is greener. The rooster's crow is prettier," said Castellani. "That's what I have to be most thankful for."
"Because of her, I look at life differently."
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