According to BC Transplant, 502 lives were saved in 2018 by organ donation, and this February marks the one-year anniversary of a life-saving kidney donation that came from Langley.
Last year, Willoughby’s Reema Garcha underwent a live kidney transplant to donate the organ to her older sister Binn Johal who lives in North Delta.
Ten years ago, when she was 36, Johal was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Vasculitus. Over time, the condition worsened and eventually Johal developed kidney disease.
And then in 2017, Johal’s doctor suggested she begin searching for a kidney donor.
“I always knew I was going to need a kidney, I just didn’t know when. And she [Garcha] always used to say to me ‘don’t worry sis, my kidney’s your kidney,’” explained Johal.
After Johal’s family underwent a thorough testing process, it was revealed that Garcha was the only match.
“I was so excited. It was like living a life with purpose – to be able to know you can save your sister’s life. I didn’t feel scared at all to be honest, and I’ve got two young children as well. It was all about doing the right thing and being so thankful that I was a match,” said Garcha.
The two women went for surgery on Feb. 26, 2018, at St. Paul’s hospital in Vancouver, and both agreed it was an “amazing” experience with attentive staff.
They are both in good health now, and Johal added, “I feel so much better, [have] way more energy, and I can eat food I couldn’t eat before.”
Garcha said she feels no different with one less kidney, and is “functioning perfectly.”
“I’d never know the difference,” she added.
Before moving to the Lower Mainland in their late teens, Garcha and Johal grew up in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.
Garcha, who is five years younger than Johal, said the age gap meant they “wern’t super close growing up,” but over time and into adulthood, the sisters developed “a very powerful bond.”
“Now knowing I was able to do this for her, and there’s been no indication of rejection, it’s a great feeling. If I had another kidney to donate, even to a random stranger, I would,” added Garcha.
According to Garcha, Johal’s kidney is the second transplant in their family, as years ago, a cousin received a heart transplant.
“We’re very appreciative of the whole donation side of things” Garcha said.
“I don’t want to be buried with any organ in my life. The purpose once I’m passed is to give life to others.”
Johal said her and Garcha are going to volunteer with The Kidney Foundation to “raise awareness and give back to the community.”
“I’m fortunate enough to get a kidney. A lot of people are not. To be on dialysis is not a good thing, some people don’t make it waiting and the quality of life is just deteriorating as you’re waiting,” explained Johal.
The 502 lives saved by organ donation in B.C. this year set a new record for total number of transplants in a calendar year.
“I’m proud to celebrate the selfless act of donation from so many British Columbians,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix. “This record number of transplants is a testament to the spirit of our residents, who gave the greatest gift of all last year—the chance at a new life for others.”
In addition to an overall organ record, a kidney transplant milestone was also reached in 2018 with 339 transplants, including 100 living donors like Garcha.
For more information on organ donation in B.C., visit Transplant BC’s website.