It was a precious gift of life from a husband to a wife.
Several months after the kidney transplant operation at St. Paul’s Hospital, Bob and Nanci Besner of Chilliwack are feeling stronger and healthier.
March 7 was the transplant surgery date, when Bob, 60, donated his kidney to his wife, Nanci, 46.
Four days after the operations, they were released from hospital to begin the long, slow recuperation period.
Having a sense of humour throughout was an absolute necessity.
“We joked that Bob impregnated me with the new kidney, which he had delivered by C-section, because that was what the transplant scar looked like.
“And then I had it implanted just behind my hip. It certainly gave me life,” says Nanci.
They crack jokes, but it’s serious stuff.
As a type 1 diabetic, recuperating from her second kidney transplant, Nanci is gradually regaining her vitality.
Her first transplant was in 1992, the result of the loving donation of a kidney from her mother, Ona Singleton.
Nanci experienced a nasty rejection episode, but medications addressed those issues, and the kidney went on to do its work for 19 years.
“I was very fortunate.”
But it eventually began to fail, in part due to complications from the diabetes.
A family member can be a good genetic match for a transplant, and the next best candidate is someone with the same blood type.
It turned out Bob had both types of matches. He went through a rigorous program of testing to make sure he was a good candidate.
“Our friends joked that we must be related because of how we matched.”
Before the transplant, Nanci could only manage to accomplish one task a day.
She struggled, for example, and eventually gave up trying, to keep up with Bob when he would do the yard work.
In the year before the operation, her energy would plummet.
“We’d make plans to go out and then have to cancel at the last minute,” Bob remembers. “That’s no longer the case.”
Weeks and weeks into the healing, Nanci’s stamina is building daily.
But the energy boost actually began immediately after surgery.
“I could feel the difference as soon as I woke up from the anesthetic,” she says. “Every cell in my body felt energized.
“When it was failing, I had this constant feeling of being drained. Now I can shop, play with my horse, do all kinds of things.”
It’s offers a whole new perspective.
“When you wake up and that new kidney has started to work, you feel it right away, as soon as they connect the blood vessels, it starts to work.”
Suddenly everyone noticed a brightness to her skin and eyes.
“Even my doctors are impressed with my recovery. I’m ahead of schedule,” Nanci beams.
Part of the key to how well it went for the Besners was the tremendous support they received from friends and family.
“This would have been so much more difficult without them,” says Bob.
“They got together and told us not to worry about a thing, whether it was meals, or the horse, cats, or driving. Whatever we needed to do.”
Because this was the second time around, the process was familiar.
“We knew what to expect,” offers Nanci.
A certain comfort zone had already been created with the team of specialized doctors.
The couple also found they grew closer while cocooning in the post-op period.
“When we were cooped up in the apartment we rented, neither one of us could walk very far.
“There was more openness and communication between us. We talked more. We’ve become much closer because of it,” Nanci notes.
Part of their motivation for sharing their story is to encourage people to sign their organ donor cards.
“It can be a six- or seven-year waiting period for cadaver kidneys,” she says.
Nanci feels extremely fortunate.
There is even a reimbursement program that pays for some of the expenses incurred as a donor, says Bob, such as mileage, meals, and some accommodation.
“There was a huge medical team including social workers in my case, making sure we knew about the whole process, and that I was mentally prepared,” he says. “You never feel alone. If you have questions, they’re there. It’s an amazing team.”
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Bob had one more thing to add.
“It’s not as scary as one might think to be a donor.
“There’s always someone there to hold your hand. You’re kept informed at every step along the way.”
The couple is happily celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary this month.
“The kidney was my anniversary present,” Bob quips.
“So I guess I’m off the hook for presents now.”
“No, you’re not!” Nanci shoots back with a big grin.