Interviewed by Katarina Zorcic and Armita Hamedi
Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us. Would you like to start off by telling us what organ you donated and who you donated that organ to?
Artur: I donated my kidney 18 years ago to my son.
When did you first find out that you needed to donate your kidney? What were your initial thoughts? Were you looking forward to it or were there any drawbacks?
Artur: Definitely no drawbacks. Let me go back in time. The doctors told us that my now ex-wife had a pregnancy complication around 8 months. He said you need to go to the hospital tomorrow and have the baby – we were sort of clueless of what was going on at that time. But [after] he was born, we quickly found out that he had kidney dysplasia – a disease [where] the kidneys will not grow as he grows older, and eventually will dry and die. This was obviously a shock for us. I don’t think anybody can be prepared for that as parents. We knew that at one point he [would need] a transplant, [but] they told us that they cannot do transplants until he was a minimum of three years old. My first reaction was a ‘take both’ type of thing. There was never any second guessing. Obviously that was the first assumption I made: by donating the kidney, our problems would be solved. Somewhat naive thinking. It’s not a cure; it’s a treatment [with] a shelf life to it. The doctors informed us that [the transplant] normally [last] around 15 years – I’m very grateful it has been 18 years.
Could you take us through the process of donating your kidney?
Artur: During the first three years, they tried to keep him [my son] alive. When he became eligible [for the transplant], reality hit. He’s eligible, now what? Mom was [a] negative match, grandparents were negative, but [thankfully] the doctor said [I was] a perfect match. So [I immediately] started signing documents. Ironically though, I was a smoker at that time and one of the requirements was that you got to stop smoking. I had three months to do that, but I basically stopped immediately. It was not easy, but when there’s the motivation, it’s like nothing. I think the process, of signing a ton of documents, was probably the toughest, most tedious part. On the day of the transplant, we were both ready. My surgery ended up taking nine hours and his took 14 hours.
How was your recovery after the surgery?
Artur: I can’t say it was easy; both of us had a hard time. I was supposed to get out of the hospital within eight days, but I ended up getting out of the hospital a month later. I developed an infection around the wound and it took longer to heal. Three days after the surgery, my son developed pneumonia in both of his lungs and they collapsed. He was in intensive care. The doctors told us that if he lives another night, that would be a miracle. They actually gave up on the kidney and wanted to stop giving anti-rejection medications because a suppressed immune system wouldn’t be able to fight the pneumonia. We wanted to save his life, obviously, so we did it. They got him off the anti-rejection medication for a week. He got better and the doctors [resumed] his anti-rejection treatment.
Did you feel as though you were supported by the staff?
Artur: SickKids is an amazing hospital. I have nothing bad to say about SickKids. The people, the nurses, the doctors – they hold your hand right from the beginning to the end They educated us – I think that’s the biggest piece. There’s a lot to absorb and the doctors sometimes speak in a way that[‘s hard to understand]. I think they built that trust and we had very good relationships. We knew nurses and doctors on a personal level. To me, they did an awesome job.
What is a piece of advice you would give a future organ donor or a registered organ donor?
Artur: I think you have to get involved; you have to get yourself educated. You cannot expect the doctors to be able to answer every single question you have or touch bases on every little thing. They don’t know what you’re thinking so you need to be vocal. My doctors were very open, simple, down-to-earth people, so that made the process easier.
What was the most difficult part of the whole process? The easiest?
Artur: It is a lot of pain – you cut through a muscle area that is not easy to heal. You have to have a lot of motivation to do it and the motivation can easily be ruined by mistreatment at the hospital. For me it’s easy: [my motivation] is my son. I gave the gift of life to my son, and I was also honored with that. SickKids did a phenomenal job. They even recognize you on their board.
Even though [my transplant] was for a family member, I felt honored. I can only imagine how important a stranger donating a kidney can be. The most difficult part for me was moving away from my family during the process. That supersedes any pain, and I couldn’t think of anything more important to me at that point in time than being with my family.
Before even finding out you needed to donate your kidney, were you a registered organ donor?
Artur: Yes, I am a registered organ donor and I emphasize it even more now. Because what are you gonna do with your organs? If they can save a life, why not right? I always felt that way.
Today, my son has a number of other complications. He’s autistic, he has a seizure disorder, he is globally delayed – he [requires] 24 hour care. Regardless of the life that he has, it’s worth every bit of it. He has a beautiful smile and nobody can take that away. I would do it all over again.
Would you recommend others to become registered donors as well?
Artur: I think everyone should be a registered donor. Life is all about giving something back to someone. Some people may not be able to because of health conditions, but if you can, that’s the most beautiful gift you can give to anyone. It’s the gift of life, and even if it’s only temporary, you are giving years to that person that they would not have.