Montreal woman offers lifesaving gift to a stranger: Her kidney

·4 min read
Élise Desaulniers gave one of her kidneys to a stranger this winter and has no regrets. In fact, she's feeling great about the experience and is training for her first half marathon. (Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC - image credit)
Élise Desaulniers gave one of her kidneys to a stranger this winter and has no regrets. In fact, she's feeling great about the experience and is training for her first half marathon. (Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC - image credit)

It started with a post on Facebook about a year ago.

"I saw a post of someone looking for a kidney. And I said, 'well, maybe I could help.' But I didn't want to give a kidney to someone on my Facebook feed," said Élise Desaulniers.

She decided she wanted to give it to anybody who needed it, without even knowing their name.

Desaulniers, an author and executive director of the Monreal SPCA, started looking into it and put a call into the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM).

She got a call back about a month later and soon found herself filling out forms and getting examined.

"They wanted to make sure I was in good health," she said, and that was a bit stressful.

At 47, she worried doctors might find something wrong, but the evaluations proved her to be in good shape and eligible to donate.

Desaulniers said Quebec was in the midst of the pandemic, she was working from home and had been staying active.

A few months went by and then, this past winter, the big day came and she woke up in hospital with bandages on her stomach.

She had successfully gone through the surgery, donating her kidney.

Feeling proud about donation

"I felt so proud and so happy," said Desaulniers.

"They told me that the surgery of the other person went well and I felt really really excited about it."

She said if she was walking by a river and saw a stranger drowning, she would jump in and pull them to safety.

"In the case of kidney donation, it's the same thing. It's saving a life," she said.

But, she added, donating a kidney is safer than jumping in a river.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC

Desaulniers said she is trying to make the world better, and she saw the donation as an opportunity to help somebody in need. She doesn't want to know who the person is because, she explained. It doesn't matter. For her, what's important is saving a life — no matter whose.

"And if I ever need a kidney later in my life, which is not likely to happen, I would be first on the list," said Desaulniers.

"If you're in good health, you can give your kidney to a stranger."

Nowadays, she is training for her first half marathon and feels great, she said.

Donors needed in Quebec, doctor says

According to Transplant Québec's data, the number of Quebecers waiting for a transplant increased by more than 10 per cent last year — the sharpest increase in 10 years.

In particular, the number of people waiting for a kidney transplant has increased, the organization says.

Donors like Desaulniers are certainly in the minority, but they are also a necessity, said Dr. Michel Pâquet, who specializes in nephrology and transplants.

"The best treatment that anyone can get if you have serious renal disease is a real transplantation with a kidney from a living donor," said Dr. Michel Pâquet.

"The results are much, much better. These kidneys last much longer."


Pâquet is in charge of the living kidney donation program at the CHUM, and he assesses all those who want to donate. Many people are looking to give a kidney to someone they know, but occasionally people want to give one to a stranger, he said.

Pâquet said, in a case when someone is giving a kidney to a stranger, the CHUM goes through a national program to find the right recipient.

"Some of them have been waiting for quite some time," said Pâquet, and calling them up to tell them they will be getting a kidney from a living donor is the best news they could get.

Of course, he noted, there are still steps to go through before the transplant is approved.

"In Quebec, the average number of living donors is about 50," he said. "Last year was a record year, we had about 70."

Out of those 70, only two were anonymous like in the case of Desaulniers, he said, but that number appears to be increasing every year.

"These people are all very generous," he said. "I want to help them help someone as long as it is safe for them."

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