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Giving the gift of life to a stranger


Watching her sister thrive after her donor surgery, Annemieke decided to donate her kidney anonymously. Watch their story. (Video: UHNToronto YouTube)
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Six weeks after donating her kidney to someone she will never meet, Annemieke Vanneste was already snowshoeing in the snowy woods of Gatineau Hills, planning her next adventures of cross-country skiing and perhaps snowboarding next year.

"Donating an organ has made me a happier person," reflects Annemieke. "Once you do this, you realize what a gift it is to donate. I won't ever know who received my kidney, but that does not matter because I know that I changed that person's life."

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Annemieke, 53, and her sister Caroline Vanneste, 47, both understand how vital organ donation is. Caroline donated one of her own kidneys to a friend a few months before Annemieke chose to donate anonymously.

Image of Carolyn (left) and Annemieke (right)
Caroline (left) and Annemieke (right), pictured in the 1970s, now share a bond that extends beyond sisterhood. (Photo: Vanneste family)

That friend was steadily growing weaker and sicker until she received a new kidney from Caroline.

"I saw how that donation transformed her life, she does not have to wonder if she will be alive next year," says Annemieke. Her brother-in-law -- Caroline's husband – also received a life-saving liver transplant 16 years ago.

"I know that transplant works," she says. "I have seen recipients do remarkable things – travel, compete in athletic games, win medals, and set goals for a future – something which they can believe in again because of the gift of donation."

Image of Carolyn (left) and Annemieke (right)
Caroline (left) and Annemieke (right) know that organ transplant works – they've seen it firsthand in their family. (Photo Credit: Annemieke Vanneste)

Dr. Anand Ghanekar, co-director of the Kidney Transplant Program at UHN, has evaluated many living donors and calls them heroes.

"Their generosity helps those in need of a transplant who otherwise might have to wait much longer, or not receive one because there are not enough organs for everyone who needs one. We are very grateful to living and deceased donors. They have the power to change many lives."

Image of Vanneste Sisters Surgery.
Annemieke was discharged four days after her surgery to recover at home. (Photo: UHN News)

The Kidney Transplant Program at UHN is the largest living donor kidney program in Canada, performing about 80 living donor kidney transplants a year, and regularly exceeding accepted U.S. benchmarks for one-year and 10-year survival of recipients.​​

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