'Favourite' school bus driver gets kidney donation from former passenger

After waiting almost two years, Miramichi school bus driver Pat Jepson is counting the hours until he receives a new kidney Thursday.

The woman donating her kidney to him is Natalie Woods, also from Miramichi, a former passenger on his bus. Woods says Jepson was her favourite school bus driver.

"He was the nicest one there and I remember him because one day he came to pick us up and he was wearing a big clown wig and I never forgot it," said Woods.

The two, along with Jepson's wife, Adeline will travel to Halifax on Tuesday and have the transplant surgery Thursday.

Hereditary disease

Jespon's was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease at the age of 20. The hereditary disease was passed to him and his brother from their mother, and it's a disease he has passed on to his two sons.

Polycystic kidney disease causes a person's kidneys to enlarge and lose function over time. After living with the disease for years, Jepson's condition worsened. His family doctor put him under the care of a nephrologist in Moncton.

"About five years ago it just got to the level that my kidneys [function] were dropping down to about 12 per cent left," Jepson said.

That's when Jepson began doing home dialysis, which worked until he had a number of surgeries that caused complications. Despite trying, he could no longer do that and began travelling to Moncton three times a week for hemodialysis.

Eventually, a bed opened in the hemodialysis clinic in Miramichi.

Submitted/Pat Jepson
Submitted/Pat Jepson

He was still able to drive bus, a job he's been doing for 32 years. Jepson has no plan to retire even though he's nearing 65.

"I hope to continue my job healthier and [more] vibrant than before."

Woods and Jepson have been waiting two years for the call telling them the transplant could go ahead.

"I just thought it was the most amazing thing to be able to give someone a quality of life back," Woods said. "It's the best gift you could possibly ever give someone."

A plea on Facebook

The donor, a single mother of two sons, said she saw a shared post on Facebook created by Adeline Jepson as a plea for a donor. No one in the family was able to donate, including his wife, and Jepson's situation was further complicated because his blood type is O positive.

"That is initially what triggered me because I thought I'm O negative so I'm universal, so I can give to anyone," said Woods, who also gives blood every four months.

"So I said what the heck, the number was there, so I called the number and things got started."

After the initial cross-match testing of their blood, Woods was told she was a perfect match to donate a kidney to Jepson.

"They told me the match was so close between us it looked as though we could have been [related] — they've never seen such a close match other than between people that were related.

"Pat and I are not related but we are a perfect match."

Jespon said there was nothing but joy and happiness when he found out.

"You talk about joy of life when you know somebody's stepped forward to give me a kidney."

The two have been patiently waiting for the call. When Woods received it days ago, the scramble to prepare began.

"The donor always gets the call first because they have to see if it fits into their time schedule," Jepson said. "My schedule is wide open."

When Jepson was called, there were tears of joy, he said.

"I blew the bugle," he said referring to his late father's bugle, which he only blows on special occasions.

Gail Harding/CBC
Gail Harding/CBC

Jepson is hopeful that once his recovery is over he won't have to have dialysis.

The long wait for the transplant was caused by a shortage of doctors.

"It's dragged out and it's mostly frustrating when you know you have a donor and then all of a sudden you have to wait and you wait," Jepson said.

No both donor and patient say they can barely contain their excitement about the transplant.

"Nothing is going to stop us," said Woods.