Tracy took Richard Stuart to be her husband 22 years ago on New Year’s Day, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.
When the Nanaimo couple discovered Richard needed a kidney, Tracy was first in line to be the donor. Then doctors found the cancer.
The Stuarts met in Prince George in 1995 while working at a Sears store, where he was a loss-prevention manager and she led the sales department.
Last summer, a doctor told Richard, 57, who has Type 2 Diabetes, that his kidney function was dropping and he needed a transplant. Tracy, 55, was a good match and surgery was expected this month.
But during a battery of tests in recent months to determine that Tracy was healthy, doctors found an abnormality. An exam of her bone marrow revealed an incurable, multiple myeloma — cancer of the plasma cells.
“That was quite a blow,” she said. “They rushed us through the transplant meetings and everything. They were just fantastic. So everybody was absolutely shocked.”
Tracy said Richard was waiting for her at the hospital when she got the news.
“I go, ‘I’m sorry baby, I can’t donate my kidney and I can’t save your life,’ ” she said. “He’s like, ‘It’s OK babe, let’s worry about you right now.’ So I’m worrying about him and he’s worrying about me. We don’t really have a chance to worry about ourselves.”
Both are now on short-term disability as they struggle to find a donor and get treatment. Richard is one of about 530 people in B.C. currently waiting for a kidney transplant.
With his kidney function now at eight per cent, Richard needs dialysis three times a week — each requiring a four-hour hospital stay — while he waits for a new catheter to heal so he can start dialysis at home.
The couple has plenty of support, they said. Tracy has two sons from a previous marriage, aged 29 and 31, who have always been close with her and Richard. Her parents live down the street and Richard’s sister and brother-in-law live in town.
The couple’s friend, Debbie, started a GoFundMe campaign, which has raised $4,000 in just over two weeks, to help cover costs related to their health care.
Richard’s “work family” at London Drugs is throwing a $15 burger-and-beer fundraiser Feb. 20 from 6-9 p.m. at The Queen’s pub.
And they have each other.
“Our marriage is so tight, it is so strong,” Tracy said. “All you can do is be there for each other. I know he’s got my back and he knows that I’m going to be there for him no matter what.”
Meantime, Tracy said she’ll need a stem-cell transplant along with chemotherapy. She hopes to be in remission soon so that she can return to managing the local PetSmart in the spring.
“I hope that it’s 10 years before it comes back,” she said. “But what I know I would like to do, after all this is said and done, is give some of my time to supporting the kidney foundation and cancer (society). I want to give back, because we have seen upfront what they have done for us.”
“We’ve got to deal with what we’ve got to deal with, it’s part of life,” Richard said. “All this, I would hope, brings awareness to kidney donations and that it’s one of the easiest organs to donate and save somebody else’s life.”
Richard has A-positive blood and can accept a kidney from someone with types A, AB or O.
In 2016, waiting times for a kidney donation from a deceased donor ranged from less than two years to up to five years, depending on blood type, said Heather Johnson, director of programs for The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s B.C. and Yukon branch.
Last year, there were 328 kidney transplants in B.C. by Dec. 14, including 98 from living donors, she said.
Johnson said the foundation has a mentorship program that connects trained, volunteer donors with potential donors who have questions about surgery, recovery and the emotional impact of the process.
Low-income recipients can stay and recover in one of the foundation’s seven “kidney suites” for free, while couples earning more than $2,000 per month can book the rooms for $35 a night.
The foundation also has a fund to help cover lost income, travel, accommodations and other expenses for donors, or potential donors, while they stay at St. Paul’s, Vancouver General or B.C. Children’s hospitals for the transplant.
Recipients typically recover in Vancouver for about two months and will need to stay on anti-rejection drugs for life, Johnson said. Donors often return to their normal routine within a few days.
“Donating a kidney, there’s no health concerns for people that do so,” she said. “You can live a perfectly healthy life.”
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