Emerging from a 10-hour slumber and pain-free for the first time in 14 years, Bet Tuason found revelatory delight in the most basic of human functions.
With a new kidney in tow, Tuason could pee without agony. He could drink as much water as he wanted.
From the period spanning 2004 to 2018, both activities were laborious, painful concepts that required a lot of upkeep and monitoring. An East Vancouver resident of close to 50 years, Tuason received regular kidney dialysis treatments from 2014 to 2018. His water intake couldn’t exceed more than a cup and a half per day, his appetite was shot and fatigue was a constant.
All that changed in March 2018, when Tuason underwent a successful kidney transplant.
“To be able to urinate, to feel that water is now passing, that sensation alone gives you a feeling of ‘Yes, I’m alive,’” Tuason told the Courier.
Tuason spoke the Courier just days after B.C. Transplant announced that a series of record-setting milestones were achieved last year: 502 transplants overall, 339 kidney transplants and 28 heart transplants.
Now 64, Tuason has lived through numerous health setbacks for 40 years. Car accidents 10 years apart — in 1977 and 1987 — did immeasurable damage to Tuason’s back. He’s been in a wheelchair since the late ’80s, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the cumulative effect of those accidents caught up with him.
Complications in Tuason’s bladder would later reveal his kidneys “only had a bit of life left.” Routine hospital visits became the norm and Tuason would regularly lose consciousness — or “crash” as he calls it — as his health deteriorated to point of near death.
During one of the Tuason’s more serious episodes, he claims to have seen a light flash before him as he believed he was dying. In the moments after Tuason’s crash, paramedics were called and he was at Vancouver General Hospital. As his life faded, Tuason described an intense light — like a “really, really bright LED” — permeating his senses.
“There’s this feeling of peacefulness,” Tuason recalled. “With that feeling, it draws you into that space because there’s no pain, there’s no worry, there’s nothing. As a Christian, I prayed. I was reminded that life has an end, life has a beginning and that maybe there’s life somewhere else.”
Those episodes are now in the rear view. Tuason recalls being on the operating table before undergoing his transplant and the surgeons showing him the kidney he’d soon receive.
“They told me, ‘We have a good one,’” Tuason said. “There is fear, but at the same time, how do you explain the feeling of winning the Lotto Max 10 times over in one ticket? I couldn’t help it, but tears came down.”
Transplant B.C. has strict regulations in place to protect the privacy and confidentially of all parties involved. Letters can be exchanged between donor families and recipients but no personal information is exchanged. In some cases, the parties can meet in person after a one-year buffer period.
Tuason’s donor was deceased, but that’s all he knows.
“How do you convey the gratitude for a life?” Tuason said. “I have this desire to say thank you, I owe you for everything I have now. I want to assure the person that this life you have given me will be used for something good.”
Compelled to donate
Corey Nislow is at the other end of the transplant spectrum. He’s a UBC researcher, avid runner and by all accounts, a very healthy dude.
Much like close to 100 other living donors in B.C., Nislow is also less one kidney. He donated in January 2018 and ran a full marathon four months later. Coincidentally, Nislow ran a half marathon — and won his age group — the day before sharing his story with the Courier.
“Me making this decision was one thing,” he said. “But me conveying to my family that this was something that was really important to me was the biggest hurdle in the entire process.”
About a year passed between the time Nislow indicated his interest in being a donor and going under the knife. Family and friends were understandably concerned, with many suggesting Nislow was withholding information from them around his motivation.
Paying it forward was 52-year-old’s main driver, though a book around selflessness and helping others compelled Nislow to act when he did — he’d just turned 50 at the time, was in fantastic shape and had no kids to worry about.
Without a second thought, the procedure happened on Jan. 22, 2018. Nislow was out of the hospital in under 48 hours and recovered within two and a half months.
“I did get some hints that my kidney, wherever it is, it’s functioning. So that made me happy,” Nislow said. “But I know zip about the recipient. I feel like my piece is done.”
The post-operation conversations he has with family and friends are decidedly different. Apprehension has given way to pride.
“My wife and my mom have told me I’ve done a good thing… that was kind of cool,” Nislow said while holding back tears. “I feel like it’s an accomplishment. It’s something you can reflect on and think ‘You know, that was just an unequivocally decent thing to do.’ And I’m glad I had it in me.”