Rene Lafree
René Laffrée knew his son would probably need a kidney one day. As the years and decades went by, he started worrying that he might have reached his “expiry date” to become a living donor. (Photo: UHN)

From the time his only son was a child, René Laffrée knew at some point the boy would probably need a kidney transplant. At age 6, Garret was diagnosed with Childhood Nephrotic Syndrome – a condition in which kidneys leak large amounts of protein into the urine leading to swelling in different parts of the body.

Decades went by, and with medical support, Garret's kidneys stayed in good shape for quite a long time. That was great news, of course, but René and his wife Linda started worrying that they would soon become "too old" to donate to their son when he needed a kidney.

"As a father or a mother, the health of your child is everything," says René. "With Garret's condition, we always considered being a donor to him when the time came.

"At one point, we started worrying we would be reaching some kind of 'expiry date.' I thought there would be an age limit of 65 or 70 to donate a kidney."

The time when Garret needed the transplant came last year, when he was 48 and René had just turned 71. René and three younger family members offered to give a kidney to Garret. As it turned out, René was the best match and he was "absolutely delighted" to be the one to share this experience with his son.

"I'm so grateful," he says. "I feel fantastic that I was able to do this for my son."

"I'm proud that I was able to do this at my age, and that I stayed fit in order to make this happen," says René. (Video: UHN)

A great contributor to making René an ideal donor was his lifestyle. René was always very active, from skiing in the winter to sailing, biking and swimming at the family's cottage during summer. Working in the financial sector, he says participating in sports was his way of keeping a healthy body and mind.

"I never imagined that, at this age, I'd be able to help him like this," he says. "I felt surprised and proud too, to become an organ donor at 71.

"The doctor even told me I had a really pretty kidney and that it started to function in my son within an hour after the transplant. It was amazing."

After slowing down for some weeks because of the donation, René is gradually coming back to his former self, exercising and getting ready for a nice summer with family at the cottage.

For him, being away from the physical activities he enjoys, was a very small price to pay for his son's well-being.

"It was a privilege to see the impact it had on my son's health. In one day after the transplant, he had already lost 20 pounds of water – because of the swelling his condition used to create," he explains.

"I'm just over the moon that Garret is doing so well and that, in a way, I will now continue in him through the kidney I don​ated."​

As part of this year’s National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, April 22 to 29, UHN joins Trillium Gift of Life Network in celebrating and continuing to build a culture of donation in Ontario:

  • Deceased organ donors in Ontario have nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and this has helped UHN become the largest adult transplant program in North America.
  • Over the past five years, the number of deceased organ donors at UHN has grown by 300 per cent. In 2016/17, 16 donors gave the gift of life, with 87 tissue donors enhancing many lives.
  • UHN is a leader in establishing living liver and kidney donation as a safe, viable option, with excellent results for both living donors and recipients.
  • Register to be a deceased organ donor at www.BeADonor.ca. Learn about living donation at www.uhn.ca.

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