Love transplanted: N.B. woman gives gift to boyfriend through kidney donation

Colin Grieve and Brittany Hay wore T-shirts on the day of their surgeries that said 'match made in heaven.' (Submitted by Kelsey Grieve - image credit)
Colin Grieve and Brittany Hay wore T-shirts on the day of their surgeries that said 'match made in heaven.' (Submitted by Kelsey Grieve - image credit)

Brittany Hay uses one word to describe the moment she found out she was a perfect match to donate her kidney to her boyfriend — overwhelming.

"At first, you kind of don't believe that it would actually be him and I but obviously, the stars aligned," said Hay.

Hay and her boyfriend Colin Grieve live in Smithfield, around 33 kilometres southwest of Fredericton. Last week they made the trip to Halifax for the life-changing surgery.

Grieve was born with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys. His father had the disease and Grieve was diagnosed when he was two or three years old, and as he got older, the disease progressed.

Submitted by Kelsey Grieve
Submitted by Kelsey Grieve

Last year, Grieve said he was told his kidney function was at 10 per cent, and he was eligible to undergo testing for a transplant.

He said he was nervous for Hay when he found out she was going to be his donor.

"But she wanted nothing less ... She had her mind made up," he said. "If she wouldn't have been able to donate, she would have been disappointed."

Hay said nobody in her family tried to talk her out of it and "everybody was so supportive." Still, she said everyone knew that her mind was made up and "I was going to do it regardless."

WATCH | 'A wonderful gift': Colin Grieve gets kidney from his perfect match:

Dr. Ahsan Alam is a transplant nephrologist and director of the polycystic kidney disease clinic at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal. He said polycystic kidney disease is the most common genetic cause of kidney failure in adults.

He said finding a donor for someone with the disease can sometimes be more complicated because if other members of the family have it, too, they can't donate.

This was the case for Grieve's sister, who he said found out she had the disease after agreeing to be tested as a potential donor.

"People who have PKD unfortunately may have a smaller pool of people that can donate to them within their family because of the genetic condition that they have," said Alam.

Submitted by Kelsey Grieve
Submitted by Kelsey Grieve

But for Grieve, his pool of donors included multiple matches. Hay ended up being the one to donate, said Grieve, because she sped up the testing process by taking time off work and rearranging her schedule to make appointments.

After months of testing and preparing, the day arrived.

Grieve said by the time the transplant date came, his creatinine levels were extremely high. Creatinine is a waste product normally filtered from the blood by the kidneys, but without properly functioning kidneys, the creatinine can build up in the blood.

"It was almost a miracle really that we got it done without doing dialysis," he said.

Grieve and Hay were admitted to two separate floors at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

Grieve's sister made T-shirts for the couple that said "match made in heaven."

After surgery, Hay said she was told about a funny coincidence. It was March 9 — World Kidney Day — a day focused on raising kidney health awareness.

Although Grieve felt sore after the surgery, he said having a fully-functioning kidney made him feel more awake right away and every day since, he's getting stronger.

For now, he has three kidneys. Hay's donor organ was put into his groin area because Grieve said removing the two other kidneys could have caused more complications, according to his surgeon.

Alam said leaving the two kidneys in place won't usually cause any complications, but if it does, they can be removed at a later date. He said the donor kidney is connected to an artery, a vein and the bladder so it can function separately from the old kidneys.

Because of the nature of polycystic kidney disease, Alam said it won't recur in the transplanted kidney because that one doesn't carry the gene mutation.

Submitted by Kelsey Grieve
Submitted by Kelsey Grieve

Alam said if someone wants to donate a kidney, but isn't a match for their loved one, there are other options, such as the Kidney Paired Donation Program that matches transplant candidates with suitable living donors, or provincial wait lists, such as the New Brunswick Organ and Tissue Donation Program.

Grieve said for anyone on the fence about donating, it's "a wonderful gift."

And for Hay, being able to give that gift was emotional.

"It was like our new life," said Hay.

"We were going to be able to put the fear of dialysis and all of that behind us and kind of live on a normal life."