Merrill Kean has kidney disease and is seeking a living donor for a transplant. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer County woman seeks a living kidney donor

Merrill Kean has only 7 per cent of her kidney function left

A Red Deer County man has launched a poster campaign to try to save his spouse’s life.

Tom Kean has been spreading posters all over the Red Deer area — and also using an electronic sign in Penhold — seeking a living person who is willing to donate a kidney to his wife, Merrill Kean.

The 61-year-old mother and grandmother has only seven percent of her kidney function left because of Focal Segmental Glomerulo Sclerosis (FSGS), the same disease as afflicted as her mother and grandmother.

It’s a relatively rare condition that attacks the kidney’s filtering units (glomeruli), causing serious scarring. This leads to permanent kidney damage and failure. FSGS usually affects people older than 45 years.

If she doesn’t get an organ transplant soon, Merrill said her kidneys will shut down and she will have to go on dialysis within six months to a year.

She said she already feels cold “all the time” and gets tired easily. She knows her quality of life and health will gradually deteriorate while on dialysis — which is done three days a week, four hours a day — and Merrill doesn’t want to miss out on being active and spending time with family.

The disease is a life-changer in many ways for the co-owners of Cherry Hill Auctions. Tom said he and his wife were looking forward to travelling in retirement, but Merrill’s doctor has already told them she shouldn’t.

The central Alberta woman can not get put on a waiting list to get a kidney from a deceased donor until she requires dialysis. The Kidney Foundation has been lobbying for a policy change on this since the group says better outcomes come from doing a “preemptive” kidney transplant before a person needs dialysis.

Dialysis causes accelerated health deterioration, said Manuel Escoto, spokesman for the Foundation’s Alberta and Northwest Territories branch. He noted 67 Albertans had to be pulled off the transplant list in 2017 because their health had deteriorated too much.

Receiving kidney donations from strangers is becoming more common since people have been putting their plight on social media, added Escoto, who is a kidney transplant recipient himself.

The growing awareness of the need for organ transplants is beneficial, since those who start going through the matching process often continue to donate to others when it’s found they not an ideal match for the person they wanted to help initially, said Escoto.

Tom said he decided to take to the streets to tell people about his wife’s condition because he was inspired by a Calgary man. This teacher had advertised for a kidney and found a stranger willing to undergo the transplant process, since humans only need one healthy kidney to survive.

Merrill’s sdaughter was initially considered as a donor, but one of her kidneys appears smaller than the other. Given the family history, doctors don’t think it’s wise for her daughter to become a donor, since she could also eventually show symptoms of FSGS, said Merrill.

Her son was not a good match, while husband Tom was told he couldn’t undergo a kidney transplant operation because of his high blood pressure. However, he plans to get retested since he recently got off medication that was causing his blood pressure to spike.

Meanwhile, several community members have seen the posters and billboard and called Merrill to see if they might be potential donors. She has referred them to the Kidney Foundation for the testing process, and hasn’t heard anything back yet.

Merrill admitted she has a hard time putting into words what the offer of a kidney would mean to her: “Obviously, I would be very grateful.”

People with the blood types A positive or O could potentially be good donors for Kean. But a whole range of other factors must be considered in evaluating whether there’s a good chance for a successful kidney transplant.

Those interested can in learning more can call the Keans at 403-347-8988.

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