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A new lease on life with a donation

Shortly after Dorothy Wickinhiser got a kidney and a new lease on life in January 1991, the 54-year-old kidney-disease sufferer told a Tri-City News reporter that the transplant had been nothing short of "a miracle.

Shortly after Dorothy Wickinhiser got a kidney and a new lease on life in January 1991, the 54-year-old kidney-disease sufferer told a Tri-City News reporter that the transplant had been nothing short of "a miracle."

Today, 20 years later, the 74-year-old Coquitlam woman stands by those words more so than ever.

"I took the family out to celebrate on the actual anniversary and my son surprised me by pulling out this newspaper that he had preserved and kept in such good condition for so long," Wickinhiser told The News during an interview at her home Friday.

Rereading her own words from two decades earlier must been a somewhat surreal step back into uncertainty.

Twenty healthy and complication-free years would have been too much to expect from a donated kidney in the early 1990s, but today, Wickinhiser wants people to know that living with a borrowed organ no longer means living on borrowed time.

And as the Kidney Foundation of Canada ramps up for its annual March drive, Wickinhiser isn't the only Tri-City kidney transplant recipient praising the selflessness of organ donors.

Finderson Alves, a former president of the kidney foundation's Eagle Ridge chapter, explained the horrors of life on kidney dialysis - a procedure he had to regularly undergo for seven years to keep kidney disease from killing him.

"They had to actually cut or make incisions in your body in order to do dialysis. And when they run out of spaces, then you die," he said.

But now, almost nine years since receiving a transplant, Alves said he still thinks about his kidney donor every day.

"Someone had to die for me to get my organ," he said. "It is not something that you can forget. It is something you have to live with."

And live with it he has, happily reporting that he is healthier now than ever before.

Both Alves and Wickinhiser emphasized the life-saving importance of becoming a kidney donor - something which doesn't have to wait until death, but is something a living person can do without any negative health consequences, according to the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

In fact, many people are born with only one kidney instead of two and are often not aware of the anomaly until they have an X-ray for an unrelated matter well into their adulthood.

Wickinhiser's grown son also bears the polycystic kidney disease that afflicted his mother before her transplant. And the time will eventually come when he too will need a donated kidney, she said.

"But he's got a good friend that's already offered him his kidney - when the time comes," she said.

Still, most people, and for many different personal reasons, refuse the opportunity to give life to others by donating their organs, even after their death.

Wickinhiser's late husband was one of them, despite seeing how drastically her own transplant improved her life.

"It was just something he just couldn't do. It wasn't that he didn't believe in it, because he saw how much it helped me. But no, he just couldn't sign up."

Two million Canadians either have or are at immediate risk of developing kidney disease, according to 2010 statistics from the Kidney Foundation of Canada, which estimates that 14 Canadians are diagnosed with kidney failure every single day.

tcoyne@tricitynews.com