Inspired by his own experience donating a kidney to his brother, Newmarket resident David Holland is raising awareness about kidney disease by taking part in Sunday's Kidney Walk.
About 10 years ago, Holland's brother, Mike, was diagnosed with a degenerative kidney disease.
"We knew quite a while ago that it wasn't a question of if he would need a transplant, we were really talking about when he would need a transplant," Holland said.
It would take about eight or nine years before his brother's condition quickly deteriorated to the point where he had almost no kidney function and needed dialysis regularly.
"It felt like overnight his kidney function dropped really, really fast. And prior to the transplant, he was down to less than one per cent of normal kidney function," Holland said.
It was at that point that his medical team began screening potential kidney donors. Holland said they don't start the screening process until a transplant is needed because a lot can change in a person's physical and mental condition over time that could affect their ability to be a donor.
While the official transplant screening process didn't begin until later, Holland said he was ready since day one, 10 years ago, to donate a kidney when it was needed.
"To me it was just a given, this is my brother, and not only is he a brother, he's a great brother. So there was never any consideration on my part that it wouldn't be me," he said.
The screening process took about a year, confirming that Holland was a good match and also determining what his quality of life would be post donation. It involved a lot of tests and doctors appointments.
"It's funny, perception versus reality. My perception of the screening process was that it was agonizingly slow," he said. "But in talking to my transplant team at Toronto General (Hospital) and my brother talking to his transplant team, we found out that apparently our whole screening process was one of the fastest they've seen."
The green light to go ahead with the donation came in December 2021, Holland said. Then in March, they got a phone call from the transplant coordinator informing them there had been a cancellation, so the surgery could be done just six days later on March 10.
"Six days is not a lot of time to plan for four to six weeks of being absent from your job. But Mike's company was really, really good about it. My company was absolutely fantastic about it. And ... I (had) started making preparations ahead of time, so that we could pull the trigger as quickly as possible on this," he said.
Taking several weeks off is required for recovery from the donation surgery. Holland said the surgery took place on a Thursday and he went home on the Sunday, albeit with a lot of discomfort. However, he said with the support of a lot of friends looking after his cats, picking up groceries and checking in on him post-surgery, he was able to focus on recovering.
"It was the fatigue that really did me in for, I'm going to say, probably two solid months after the surgery. I was exhausted all the time. Even after I really didn't have any any pain or discomfort, I was just tired all the time," Holland said.
He said in their experience, the recovery was actually harder on him as the donor than for his brother, who is doing great post-transplant.
"You can imagine if you've got two kidneys and neither one of them are working particularly well, and then suddenly you get one kidney that is working perfectly well, you're going to feel better much much faster. Whereas if you go from two kidneys that are working perfectly well to suddenly you know, now I've got one that works perfectly well," he said.
Despite this, he said he is glad he could donate, especially to someone who means so much to him. It's an unusual thing he was able to do.
"It's definitely a rare thing, which in a way, it's good because maybe kidney disease doesn't touch quite as many people as some other diseases, but I think part of it, too, though, is awareness," he said.
He said it wasn't until his brother's condition worsened and he began receiving dialysis that he heard about people who have been waiting for transplants for years, spending countless hours every week in the hospital receiving dialysis while they wait.
"There's people waiting for kidneys with seriously diminished quality of life. And these people have this diminished quality of life for a decade. You know, they're in dialysis actively getting treatment but they just can't find a donor," he said.
Knowing that, he said he wanted to do something to help bring attention to this cause and the Kidney Foundation of Canada's upcoming Kidney Walk was a great opportunity to do that.
"If there's something that I can do, to raise the money and raise some awareness, and if there's something that I can do then great, let's do it," he said.
The walk is being across Ontario on Sunday, Sept. 25. The event is largely virtual and participants can chose whatever route works best for them. For Holland and the group he'll be walking with, he has opted to head out to Beeton for a nice five-kilometre walk.