Friend, can you spare a kidney?

Living donor program allowed Sue McKeeman to help her best friend

Jean Bell (left) and her close friend Sue McKeeman recently participated in the paired-exchange kidney program. They hope sharing their story will help raise awareness of the living donor program and kidney disease.

Jean Bell (left) and her close friend Sue McKeeman recently participated in the paired-exchange kidney program. They hope sharing their story will help raise awareness of the living donor program and kidney disease.

Erin Haluschak

Record Staff

From a friendship which developed more than 25 years ago working together in a Vancouver law firm, Jean Bell and Sue McKeeman never imagined years later they would share more than life’s milestones together — they would share the gift of a kidney.

The friends, now both Comox Valley residents, went through a truly life-saving experience when McKeeman and Bell entered the paired-exchange program through the B.C. Kidney Foundation.

“If you’ve got a healthy pair, why not?” said McKeeman about her participation and kidney donation to the program.

The program, created in 2006, is designed to help reduce the waiting time for patients on the kidney transplant list.

It offers another option to patients with living donors who have been tested and found to be blood type incompatible. The program makes it possible for one incompatible couple to ‘swap’ donor with another couple in the same situation, therefore enabling two kidney patients to receive a transplant completely anonymously.

Diagnosed as a child

Bell said she first learned of kidney disease when she was eight years old, when her mother was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Her brother was diagnosed with PKD when he was 19, and she was diagnosed with the disease when she was 28.

“Kidney dialysis was a last resolve. I stood a much better chance with a transplant. Living through such an artificial means it’s not a great way to live,” she explained.

In 2009, Bell said her brother received a kidney transplant from his wife at Vancouver General Hospital, and three years later, she began discussions of transplant as her kidney function began to decrease.

In 2012, McKeeman made the decision to enter the paired-exchange program, and entered a battery of tests both at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox and St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

“I knew it wasn’t going to have much of an impact on my life. You go through an incredible round of testing and get the most amazing medical look-up. They really do check everything,” she noted.

Bell added watching her friend go through the series of tests, “it reflects how healthy you really are.”

Going through the testing, McKeeman found out she was not a match for Bell.

Despite the incompatibility, she knew the paired-exchange program could increase her friend’s chance of finding a potential donor.


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