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Apr 27, 2023

Mother and Daughter Share Life-Changing Transplant Journey to Inspire Others

The Kidney Foundation challenges employers to support living organ donors and join the Living Donor Circle of Excellence

This week, April 23-29, is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (NOTDAW). NOTDAW aims to highlight the importance of organ and tissue donation. The Kidney Foundation of Canada's Wage Replacement Policy for Living Organ and Tissue Donation financially supports staff who choose to be living donors and is an example of how an employer can easily support living organ donation, potentially save lives, and reduce the burden of kidney disease for people in our community.

"We encourage other Canadian organizations and companies to explore their own policies and to take a bold step to help those who so altruistically decide to dramatically improve the health of someone through the selfless act of organ donation," said Elizabeth Myles, The Kidney Foundation of Canada's National Executive Director. "It is empowering for employees to feel supported throughout the process. From an employer's point of view, it was relatively low cost and easy to implement."

The need for organs for transplantation is much greater than the available supply. The waitlist for a donation from a deceased donor can be long; the median wait time is 3.5 years. Many wait much longer and some will die waiting.

Living organ donation is a selfless gift that reduces the wait time for those receiving the donation and shortens the waitlist for others. Currently, 29% of adult kidney transplants are made possible by living donors. However, the potential of lost wages during recovery can influence an individual's ability to become a living donor.

Programs exist in many provinces to reimburse certain out-of-pocket expenses for donors, but many employers do not offer salary coverage or flexible time off to employees who want to donate an organ.

Tanya Work, an employee of The Kidney Foundation of Canada, donated one of her kidneys to her mother Faye in a life-saving surgery in February. The Kidney Foundation's policy allowed Tanya to focus on her health and family without worrying about the financial impact.

Faye's kidneys held up for 25 years before she underwent a pre-emptive kidney transplant which lasted for another 20 and a half years. However, in May of last year, the transplanted kidney started to deteriorate rapidly and, unfortunately, it soon failed entirely. Faye was put on dialysis about a month later and while grateful for the lifesaving treatment she'd been struggling ever since.

Tanya immediately stepped up to be her donor and began testing to see if they would be a match.

When Tanya first offered the kidney, Faye was apprehensive. However, Tanya was very persistent in convincing Faye to accept. Tanya told Faye, that if she didn't take her kidney, she'd give it to somebody else. Giving her mom a kidney would not only improve Faye's health but also allow their family to get back to living a more normal life.

The gesture holds even more meaning for Tanya because when her mom was first diagnosed, they didn't think she would live to see Tanya graduate. Now, Tanya's daughter is graduating in a month. With the life-saving gift, Faye is looking forward to her granddaughter's graduation.

In 2021, The Kidney Foundation of Canada implemented its top-up Wage Replacement Policy for Living Organ and Tissue Donation to remove barriers to organ donation by ensuring an employee's income remains unchanged throughout the process of making a living donation and for up to 15 weeks of recovery. In doing so, The Kidney Foundation of Canada joined an elite group of organizations and businesses as a member of the American Society of Transplantation’s Living Donor Circle of Excellence and recently became a strategic partner on this initiative in October 2022.

Tanya hopes this type of policy becomes more normalized. "There's going to be some people who might hesitate doing it because of finances. And if, as an employer, they can enrich other people's lives and help potential living donors do what I'm doing and have the freedom to be able to save a life, and improve lives, then I definitely encourage other employers to do the same."

"We know how transformative a kidney transplant can be," says Ms. Myles. "Tanya's experience is a reminder of the importance of workplace support and flexibility for employees dealing with medical issues. The Kidney Foundation's policy has allowed Tanya to focus on her health and family without worrying about the financial impact."

"We encourage people to find out if their employer has a leave policy," said Ms. Myles. "If not, you could be the person to ask, 'why not?' and invite them to learn more."

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