Penny Bates and her brother Bob

Courtenay woman donates kidney to her brother

Transplant operation took place in November at Vancouver General Hospital.

  • Mar. 4, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Scott Stanfield

Record Staff

They say blood is thicker than water.

Look no further than Bob and Penny Bates for living proof of the proverb.

Last year, Penny donated a kidney to Bob, which literally saved her kid brother’s life. But the 45-year-old Courtenay woman has a hard time wrapping her head around that idea. For her, there was no hesitation to donate a body part. In fact, she insisted to find out if they were a match.

“We’re about as close a match as if we were identical twins, but we’re not,” said Penny, who is 11 months older. “He wasn’t really happy about it. He said he had nothing to lose but I had everything to lose.”

Bob, 44, has been diabetic the past 25 years, but his kidneys were still functioning above a 10 per cent threshold.

“My sister talked them into doing it before I had to go on dialysis,” said the Cumberland resident who has two teenagers. Bob had worked at the Campbell River pulp mill and was hoping to return to school until his health went sideways.

“To get on the list, you have to be on dialysis. I lost a lot of weight and lost a lot of energy, and was pretty sick all day.”

The siblings went under the knife in November at Vancouver General Hospital. Older sister went first. He says it was scary. She says it wasn’t.

“She’s a lot tougher than I am,” Bob quipped. “She was out in three days. She was walking the next day. She was out in three and I was out in five.”

But he is on the road to recovery, having passed the first few crucial months after the operation.

“It was night and day after I got it (kidney) in. I was waking up full of energy all of a sudden. You don’t realize how sick you are because it’s such a slow process. I didn’t know what good felt like anymore, really, until it was in. It was an eye opener. I didn’t realize how bad I felt.”

Penny said the process was straightforward.

“It was fine. It’s not like 25 years ago, it’s a lot different now. I had seven months of testing. Doctors aren’t in the habit of taking healthy people and making them sick. They made sure I was in optimum health before they would even consider it.”

In terms of recovery, Penny suffered about six weeks of pain that subsided every day.

“I feel exactly the same,” she said, dismissing notions about fatigue. “The more walking you do the easier it is. But aside from the pain, I don’t feel any different than I did before I went.”

After the surgery, Bob and Penny spent a week at the same Vancouver hotel, known as the ‘kidney condo.’ While across the water, the Waverley Hotel in Cumberland held a fundraising event. Along with an online campaign, about $15,000 was raised for Bob. He needs to be placed on another list, this time for a pancreas match.

Besides the normal brother-sister tussles, the siblings were close while growing up in Cumberland. That closeness remains, whether walking together at the Courtenay Airpark, or driving to the clinic in Victoria for checkups.

“It seems like this actually brought us even closer together,” Bob said.

March is Kidney Month.

The Kidney Foundation of Canada, BC & Yukon Branch, is embarking on a mission to increase the number of kidney transplants in BC by 50 per cent over the next five years. To find out more about donating a kidney, contact The Kidney Foundation of Canada, BC & Yukon at 1-800-567-8112, or go to


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