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France Laflamme always felt blessed being the one of three siblings not to be affected by a rare genetic kidney disease that runs in her family. At the same time, she also knew one day she would have to decide to help either her brother or sister with the one kidney she would be able to donate.
"It wasn't an easy decision, because I have a brother and a sister suffering from the same disease and it got me thinking: who should I help?" she says.
In 2012, after decades of managing his symptoms through a strict diet and exercise routine, France's brother, Claude, was advised by his doctor that he should start searching for a living kidney donor.
He didn't ask France directly or any potential donor. Instead, Claude decided to let his loved ones know where he stood, the treatment options he had and his timeframe, so that they could decide to come forward if they felt comfortable to so.
"I felt I couldn't just ask for a kidney," he says. "It's a difficult request."
France says she wasn't at any point concerned for her own health. But she did worry about her sister, Hélène, and how the decision to donate to Claude could affect Hélène if she needs a transplant, too.
"After talking to my husband, I decided to take a pragmatic approach," France says. "We felt there was no other way to make this decision.
"I chose to live in the present, and the person I needed to help at that moment was my brother Claude."
Five years after the transplant – which took place in 2014 – France says she now feels even more blessed, because being a donor was a unique opportunity to express her generosity and her love.
"I was eligible to share this wonderful gift of life with my brother and why should I keep it for a future occasion, when I'm not even sure if I'll be alive tomorrow?" France says.
"I realized my kidney was this precious gift and that I didn't want to hold on to it."
Her sister Hélène is still doing well and not in need of a transplant.
France has joined the transplant community, participating in awareness campaigns and as a volunteer in initiatives to spread the word around living organ donation. One way is by sharing her story during National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week celebrated at this time of the year.
"Awareness around transplant is on the rise," France says. "And if Hélène ever needs a kidney, we're very hopeful that someone will help her as I did for my brother."
A new perspective in life
As a recipient, Claude says transplant has had a profound impact on how he sees life.
National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week takes place April 21-27.
During this week, we acknowledge the patients in need of a transplant and those who have died waiting. There are about 1,600 patients waiting for an organ in Ontario. Thirty-four per cent of Ontarians are registered donors, or 4.2 million out of an eligible 12.5 million. Please consider registering at
One way that the UHN Transplant Program addresses this gap is with its innovative programs in living organ donation. The UHN Centre for
Living Organ Donation within UHN's Transplant Program is setting the gold standard in discoveries, treatment, and care for patients with end-stage kidney and liver disease who receive the gift of living donation.
He says living with a genetic kidney disease was "very manageable" with medical support throughout his life, but the years leading to his transplant were harder. He had to stop competing in longer cycling competitions that he enjoyed. His diet got even stricter.
"I went through all that and thanks to my sister, France, and to the wonderful UHN Transplant team, I'm now on the other side," Claude says. "I'm living the dream and I feel I can now see the beauty in life.
"I used to stress about things that I see now are completely irrelevant in the big scope of life. I now work less, take even better care of myself, and I'm just more tolerant, more relaxed."
Claude still has to control his diet, but with way fewer limitations, and he's back to the competitions he enjoys so much. His quality of life has improved tremendously and he was able to travel to visit his son in Australia – something that he wouldn't consider doing if he was on dialysis.
Benefits of a preemptive transplant
A preemptive kidney transplant is when a patient receives a kidney before having to go on dialysis. It's not the recommended course for every patient, but it can provide benefits, as in Claude's case.
"The main benefit of a preemptive transplant is it gives more control to the patient," explains registered nurse Carol Wright, Patient Care Coordinator, who cared for Claude after his transplant.
"Claude's case is a great example of how positive it can be to have that time for planning for a transplant, physically, emotionally and financially."
Claude and France saw their father suffer with the disease and the constant need for dialysis. They say, after that experience, they are grateful Claude was able to get a transplant before needing that treatment.
"I was very lucky to have a sister like France, and that she was compatible," Claude says.
"This surgery really changed my outlook on life and benefited my whole family."
Fast facts about kidney transplant