It can happen to you: How this 25-year-old's life was saved with a liver transplant

Apr 11 2018, 6:03 pm

The idea of facing a life-threatening illness can be a scary thought. You wonder if you would still be able to work, what your future would look like, and who would take care of you.

For 25-year-old Jonny Kalambay, those thoughts weren’t even an option. He was diagnosed with a disease of the liver called biliary atresia when he was only an infant. It caused him to suffer through weight issues, develop jaundice, and a swollen abdomen.

At just three months old, Jonny went through a Kasai surgical procedure. And although the surgery was successful, his health deteriorated and he was put on a waitlist for a liver transplant.

Waiting for a transplant

Image: Courtesy of Jonny Kalambay

Jonny’s parents waited for over a year but his condition was getting worse. While waiting, Jonny and his family made the move to Canada. Finally, after 20 months on a wait list, the anxious parents received the news that Jonny would be getting a transplant. 

“Thankfully, I have been as healthy as most children since my transplant. I have to take pills regularly, which often proved difficult for the forgetful and distracted child that I was, but I always had the support of health staff and my family to help me remember,” Jonny told Daily Hive.

Jonny notes how the transplant left a scar across his abdomen, that he was “very ashamed of growing up, and would do everything he could to try to hide.” However, in his late teens and early adulthood, he learned to “embrace the scar for its meaning.”

“It represents the gift that I was given, and how fortunate I am to be alive. I feel that it’s only right for me to make the most of it. I can thank my donor and honour them by living a fulfilling life. I try to remind myself of this every day,” says Jonny.

Gabriela Palai/StockSnap

A second chance at life

April 22 to 29 is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week – a national campaign dedicated to raising awareness for organ donation.

Jonny urges anyone who has entertained the idea of becoming an organ donor to register right away. “It only takes a couple of minutes, and it can save many lives. There aren’t enough donors in Canada, and without organ donors, many people, myself included, wouldn’t have a chance at life,” he added.

At present, there are more than 600 people on an organ donor wait list in BC, according to BC Transplant. And although up to 95% of British Columbians support organ donation, the number of those registered is much smaller.

You can register to become an organ donor regardless of your age, sexual orientation, medical history, or religion, and it only takes two minutes to register online via BC Transplant.

Statistics from BC Transplant show that 29 British Columbians died while on the transplant wait list in 2017.

How to register

If you’re thinking about becoming an organ donor, have a chat with your loved ones because it’s a conversation that could save a life.

You can register your wishes online with BC Transplant or at the public registration drive hosted by BC Transplant and The Kidney Foundation of BC, in downtown Vancouver on April 25.

On the same day, buildings and landmarks around the city will light up in green in support of organ donation. Be sure to take photos of any of the illuminated structures you see and share them on social media using the hashtag #LightUpGreen.

Did you know?

  • One organ donor can save up to eight lives
  • You’re more likely to need a transplant than to become an organ donor
  • Organ donation is considered only after all life-saving efforts are made and it is certain you will not survive
  • Two doctors, who are independent of the donation and transplant program, must declare your death before organ donation can proceed
  • Any British Columbian who is over the age of 19 can register their decision about organ donation and parents can register their children
  • You only need to register your decision once

Visit BC Transplant for more information, and check out the organization on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Registration Drive

When: April 25
Time: 11:30 am to 1:30 pm
Where: London Drugs Plaza (West Georgia and Granville Street corner)

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