December 04, 2023

My kidney transplant story: Debbie Diebold, Kitchener ON

Debbie_05_(1).pngAt the age of six years, I would come home from school at lunchtime, telling my mom that I had a stomach ache, and would lay down. At first, Mom thought something was bothering me at school. After a couple of weeks of the same routine, Mom decided she’d better get me to our family doctor.

My doctor almost immediately diagnosed me with Wilms Tumor, a rare kidney cancer that affects children. At Scarborough General Hospital I had surgery, and my left kidney was removed. My mom was told that the cancer had completely surrounded my left kidney like a halo.

I was then transferred to the Princess Margaret Hospital to begin radiation and chemotherapy. At that time my mom didn’t drive. The Canadian Cancer Society arranged carpool transportation for us. I began attending weekly, then monthly, follow-up appointments.

When I first came home from my two-month treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital, I was in bed, and my bedroom window was open. My dad was outside mowing the lawn. I could smell cut grass. To this day, I find comfort in that smell. I associate it with the safety of home, and my survival.

Then at the age of 16, at my last appointment at Princess Margaret, the doctor confirmed I was “cancer free”. That was when it hit me that I’d had cancer. It was not talked about in the 60’s, as I was a child, and cancer was unknown territory to my family.

I actually met Princess Margaret. She happened to be attending a ceremony at Princess Margaret Hospital on one of the days when I had an appointment.

stomach_scar.pngMy childhood was uneventful. I hid my disease at school, because it was so rare to not only have cancer, but to survive. I thought students looked at me differently. I would overhear some say that I wouldn’t live.

My scar went from the front of my left side, all the way around my back. I hated changing for swim class, and would make up stories about the scar, even going so far as to say that a magician had sawed me in half.

Today, I walk with pride in looking at my faded scar, knowing what I’ve survived.

My little trooper, my right kidney, functioned on its own until the age of 58, when my kidney function started declining. I attended the Grand River Hospital Renal Clinic for seven years, and was followed by Dr Gregor and the amazing nurses. They became my comfort, my support, and my friends.

I was prepared, at that point, that eventually I would require dialysis, with the hope of obtaining a kidney transplant. 19 months ago, when my kidney function went under 10 percent, Dr Gregor said, “It’s time.”

I was not surprised by this, but of course I was somewhat sad at my declining health. I felt like I had failed myself.

IV_bag.pngI was given the option of doing hemodialysis, or peritoneal dialysis. The difference between the two types of dialysis is that hemodialysis done in a hospital setting, three times a week, hooked up to a machine for three-hour stretches. Peritoneal dialysis, you do in the comfort of your home.

I chose peritoneal dialysis, for a few reasons. I did not want a hospital setting, or the time involved in attending the Renal Clinic. I also wanted to continue working full-time as a Medical Assistant to an extremely busy urology surgeon.

It was the best decision for me. I would do dialysis at home using an IV bag of dialysis solution. The dialysis solution went from a bag hanging on an IV pole, into my connecting tube, through my stomach.

I started out doing dialysis in the evening, then draining out in the morning. The dialysis solution went in at 5:00 p.m., then out in the morning before work.

Then the routine changed to emptying in the morning, filling back up, keeping the solution in all day, and starting all over again in the evening. This allowed me to lead as “normal” a life as possible. I also knew that as time progressed, the frequency of exchange would increase.

I had no issue doing peritoneal dialysis. I have to admit, though, the hardest thing for me to accept was seeing the tube sticking out of my stomach.

phone_call.pngI was placed on the kidney transplant list 19 months ago, and on October 31st I got “the call” which would change my life forever. As much as I had prayed that the day would come, I was shocked when it did. I couldn’t believe I was given another chance at life.

I received my kidney from a deceased donor. It is an overwhelming feeling, knowing that someone who was a stranger to me saved my life.

I had two previous calls, before my accepted kidney. The first call in August informed me that I would be a back-up if the first patient did not work out. It did work out for the first patient.

The second call I got was on August 21. It was explained to me that they didn’t know much about the patient’s history, other than they had liver issues, and some other complications. Also, they were having a hard time contacting a family member.

After I turned that kidney down, I was psychologically and emotionally devastated, and second-guessed my decision to decline that kidney. I spoke with the surgeon whom I work for, and he confirmed that I made the right decision. He told me another kidney would come along. This brought me some sense of relief, but I questioned if I would get another chance.

On October 31st, I was at work. My phone rang and the number said London Health Sciences.

I started shaking, and thought, “Oh my God, this is it!” My transplant coordinator advised me that there were no complications with this donor’s kidney, and I would have to be at University Hospital by 1:00 a.m. I couldn't believe this was happening.

I called my husband at work, and could barely get the words out. I was crying, explaining that there was a kidney for me from a deceased donor.

thankful.pngWe arrived at University Hospital. I was told they were awaiting the arrival of my kidney. I later found out that the patient ahead of me received the other kidney at 11:00 p.m. I received the gift of life at 4:00 a.m. November 1st.

From the moment I received this gift, I have vowed that I will honor my guardian-angel donor and their family in any way I can, for the selfless act of saving a stranger. This is something that I do not take lightly. I know how blessed I am to be alive.

There are numerous reasons why I wish to become a Transplant Ambassador. When I started my kidney journey, I had fears of the unknown. I knew no-one who had walked the same journey as me. No-one who could understand my fears and, at times, anxiousness. I hope to bring comfort and support to someone else starting the dialysis journey, and waiting for a transplant.

I will be forever grateful for my gift of life. I can’t think of a better tribute to my deceased donor. Not only are they living on through me, I honor my donors’ memory through their selfless act of giving life to a stranger. Today I walk with pride when looking at my scars, knowing how strong I have remained throughout my life.

Unfortunately, I know nothing my deceased donor. I am curious, because this person is now a part of me. I have written to the donor family, and hope my words bring them some sense of comfort while dealing with their loss, knowing that their loved one is truly a hero.

It has now been three weeks since my transplant. We all take for granted the things we used to do so easily, but with each day I am getting stronger.

I can't stress enough how important it is to sign a donor card, to tell your loved ones that you wish to donate your organs after your death. I personally can’t think of any better accomplishment, than saving a life.

~ Debbie Diebold, Kitchener ON

Learn more about the Transplant Ambassador Program (TAP) here.