Tammy Whitebean was scrolling Facebook when she came across a CTV News article that made her think of her father, Mason Whitebean.
The article was about Kanehsata’kehró:non Tanya Denis, whose ongoing struggle to find a kidney donor previously appeared in an October issue of The Eastern Door.
Denis, a 52-year-old mother and grandmother, suffers from Type 1 diabetes, a condition with which she was diagnosed at only four years old. Over the years, she developed complications such as visual impairment and nerve damage.
Kidney disease has been the worst, however. For the past few years, Denis has endured a gruelling regimen of dialysis - three four-hour sessions per week. She spends the rest of her time recovering from the treatments.
“It took away everything,” she said.
As a former diabetes prevention worker, Denis is well-versed in the disease, but it still shocked her when it hit her kidneys so quickly.
“I did my best. I was an athlete all my life. I watched what I ate. I took care of myself the best I can,” she said.
A kidney could do more than simply extend her life; she believes it could reinfuse her with the vitality she needs to work and enjoy life again, to once more experience a sense of freedom.
“I wouldn’t be sick to my stomach. I wouldn’t be having tremors. I would be able to urinate again.... My health would be a lot better because I wouldn’t have the poison, the toxins that the kidneys filter running in my body anymore,” she said. “There’s no life to this.”
Whitebean thought of her father when she read about Denis because he, too, suffered from diabetes. He died from the disease more than 15 years ago, when he was only in his 50s.
“I’d give anything to have a few more moments with my father, but we were unable to,” Whitebean said, "so if I could do anything to give this woman back to her family and live a good life, to spend time with them, why not?”
Whitebean took an over-the-phone questionnaire and scheduled blood work with the donor clinic, the first step in determining her eligibility.
She sent a message about the situation to a group chat with her sisters, but her sister Angie Brascoup, 42, was already aware of the Kanehsata’kehró:non - and had already decided to pursue a donation herself.
While Whitebean does not know Denis, Brascoup worked with her for a short time about 15 years ago.
“She was funny, outgoing,” said Brascoup. “She always said she would have my back if anything. She had told me she was a boxer. We weren’t together long, and then that was it.”
Although they lost touch long ago, it upset Brascoup to learn how dire Denis’s situation had become. “When I first saw it on Facebook like two months ago, I was thinking about it, but I sort of chickened out,” she said.
When she saw the situation crop up once again on her feed, she made a decision: if her tissue is compatible, and if the donor clinic will allow her, she will donate her kidney.
A kidney donation is not as simple as being willing or even having a compatible blood type, although this is a prerequisite. A living donor must have tissue that will not be rejected by the recipient’s body, and they must be healthy enough to reasonably assure their own well-being.
The donor clinic already had Brascoup’s blood type on file when she called, expediting her approval for a half-day of tests on May 12.
“I’m still nervous that I’m going to do it. I’m shocked that I’m a match,” she said of her O-positive blood type.
“Reality set in, but then I just said I’m going to go for it, and hopefully I can help her.”
Whitebean, too, said she is committed to going through with the donation if deemed eligible.
“When I’m going to do something, I don’t give a damn what anyone else says; I do it. I’m stubborn that way,” said Whitebean.
Her family was not surprised to learn of her intention. “He’s always backed me up, my husband. No matter what I do, he’s always there,” she said.
She has often sought to help community members, but this is the first time Whitebean has considered donating an organ. She’s willing, however, with the knowledge it will give Denis’s family more time with their loved one and help her live a good life.
“It’s a kidney,” said Whitebean. “I can live with one.”
There is no guarantee either sister will be given the green light to donate; Denis’s niece was a match, but her health was not up to par for a live donor.
Others who wish to enquire about their ability to donate a kidney to Denis can contact Patricia Hooker, living donor transplant coordinator at the Royal Victoria Hospital, by calling 514-934-1943, ext. 36003.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door