Ultimate act of kindness

·6 min read

Dale Woodard Lethbridge Herald

Rhonda Dawes simply wanted to give someone a better 2020.

So she gave a bit of herself.

Dawes recently returned to Lethbridge following surgery to donate a kidney to an anonymous recipient last month.

With the COVID-19 pandemic that has made it a tough year, the time was now for Dawes to give someone such a crucial gift.

“I really wanted it done because 2020 has been such a crappy year,” said Dawes. “For me, I can’t imagine living in 2020 when you have an illness like kidney disease. I thought if I could get this donation done in 2020 that makes my 2020 amazing and someone else’s 2020 amazing.”

Dawes’ interest in organ donation began with seeing a story on the news about a kidney donation back in 2017 and was re-ignited by the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April 2018.

She ran into setbacks including the pandemic that put surgeries on hold, followed by her first recipient suddenly not being able to accept her kidney once surgeries began in the summer.

But last month Dawes was finally able to recognize her goal to give to someone else not just a better 2020, but a better life.

“This has been many years in the works,” said Dawes. “The whole idea came to me when I saw a clip on Global News in March 2017 about a fellow in Calgary who was going to donate a kidney to his friend, who was in desperate need of one. While they were in the process his friend was given a kidney by someone on a list. So he (donor) decided to join the anonymous program. His whole story just stuck with me and when I saw that I wanted to do that too.”

The story prompted Dawes to register as an organ donor a month later.

However, when her sister’s husband passed away suddenly, Dawes had to withdraw from the program.

That all changed on her birthday on April 6 two years ago with the Broncos bus crash which killed 16 people, including Lethbridge’s Logan Boulet.

“I felt like the universe was screaming at me ‘You need to do this,’” said Dawes. “So I did some more talking with my family and friends and I re-registered again in April of last year.”

Dawes became an anonymous donor because she didn’t know anybody specifically who needed a kidney.

“There are so many different options you can take,” she said. “You could also put limitations (such as) donating to someone in Alberta. They always expect the healthy person to travel to the person to donate. So I wanted a Canada-wide because I truly wanted a trip to Nova Scotia. The Kidney Program has a reimbursement program so this was not an out-of-pocket cost. A lot of donators will go early and take a week of holiday first and then you start your transplant process.”

Having re-registered to become an organ donor, Dawes underwent a battery of tests.

“They test the person before they even try to find you a match because if you’re not healthy enough there’s no point going further,” she said. “Every step along the way they were very clear that they could find something that could be life changing for me and my health. They just want you to be prepared.”

Dawes underwent her testing in the summer of 2019 and by September she received the all-clear to proceed for a perfect fit.

This January a match was found in Alberta and more blood tests followed to ensure Dawes and the anonymous recipient were a match.

Then COVID hit in March and everything ground to a halt.

“They cancelled all surgeries. This is considered an elective surgery,” said Dawes.

In July, Dawes received word that transplant operations were starting again. However, her match could no longer accept her kidney.

“Because it’s anonymous I don’t get to know why,” said Dawes. “So we were back to square one, which was disappointing. I had done all this now, nothing.”

In August another match in Alberta was found.

“Then it went really quick,” said Dawes. “I had to redo all the testing. It was longer than a year (prior), so your health can change within a year. So they have to make sure you’re still healthy. Thankfully, a lot of the testing I was able to do at the Chinook Regional Hospital, so I didn’t have to miss a lot of work.”

Because of COVID, Dawes had to be tested two weeks before the procedure and then quarantine.

By Dawes’ side throughout was her best friend, Sandee Mogdan.

“Sandee was super supportive and every single appointment she was with me or drove me. We really bonded a bit more over this.”

With the surgery complete, the recipient of Dawes kidney remains strictly anonymous and will remain that way.

“It’s 100 per cent off the table,” she said. “I’m not to know them and they’re not to know me. I like that. That is the best decision for me.”

Back home, Dawes has settled back into her life.

“They warned me beforehand that it’s very common that after this is all done you can go into a depression,” she said. “This has been such a focus for me for three-and-a-half years. Now that it’s over it’s like ‘What do I do?’ They said the best thing to combat that is to have something else to look forward to.”

Perhaps that trip down east she so dearly wants.

“My best friend and I are planning a post-pandemic trip somewhere, maybe Nova Scotia,” said Dawes with a laugh.

Earlier this year on April 7, Dawes proudly wore green for Green Shirt Day in honour of the Logan Boulet Effect in support of organ donor and awareness registration across Canada.

Boulet registered to become an organ donor a month before the tragic Broncos accident and saved six lives as a result of that decision in addition to inspiring hundreds of thousands of Canadians to become organ donors.

“I’m a huge supporter of that, absolutely. It’s a fantastic program,” said Dawes. “Tick the box on your driver’s licence. It’s so simple.”

In addition to her best friend by her side, Dawes also credited her employers at Simpson Plumbing for giving her the time she needed to make her goal a reality.

“There are so many people involved,” said Dawes. “Yes, I’m the one that gave the organ, but there are so many other people that if they didn’t help me it never would have happened.”

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Dale Woodard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald