True believer: Family advocates importance of Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act

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Steven Stewart had no interest in donating his organs to anyone.


He flat-out did not believe in it.

Until the day his life turned upside down and he became a believer pretty quickly. That was the day his son, Steven Jr., needed a kidney.

His father became the donor.

Nova Scotia has just become the first province and the first area in North America for the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act. The legislation was passed in early April and it will be enacted next year. Once passed, every Nova Scotian will be presumed to be a potential donor, unless they opt out. This will give patients waiting for transplants a better chance of getting one sooner by increasing the availability or organs and tissues.

Steven Jr.’s mother, Ann, believed wholeheartedly in donating her organs and tissues when the time comes that they are of no more use to her. She was willing to give up a kidney for her son but a serious medical issue prevented her from doing it.

“I believe in it,” she said. “But he did not,” she motions to her husband. “Until Steven Jr. got sick.”

Steven Jr. has his father to thank for his life today, literally. He was home from Halifax, where he works, visiting his parents, when his life turned upside down with the blink of an eye.

It was Valentine’s Day 2010. Generally in good health, Steven Jr. had not been feeling the greatest for several months — high blood pressure, migraines, nausea. “I looked at him and said, ‘You look like hell,’ Steven Sr. said of his son. Having been a paramedic for 14 years, Steven Sr. knew what he was talking about.

Steven Sr. took his son’s blood pressure. It was extremely high.

They brought Steven Jr. into the Aberdeen Hospital.

“It was less than three minutes by the time I had gone through the triage process,” Steven Jr. said.

After a battery of tests and exams, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. He was critically ill and did not realize it.

“The doctor said he didn’t know if he’d make it until the morning,” Steven Sr. said.

“And his pressure was too high to medi-vac him out,” Ann recalled.

He did make it through the night and eventually returned to Halifax. His followup care took place at the VG hospital.

“The nephrologist there said my kidneys were functioning at only nine per cent and that my best course of treatment would be organ replacement.”

Steven Jr. went on a transplant list along with, at that time, about 120 other people.

His father, right away, wanted to donate one of his kidneys. All along, he was not interested in donating organs or tissues but at this time, he did not hesitate. His son’s dire health prognosis was the only motivation Steven Sr. needed. He was all in.

Immediately, he set about losing the weight he needed to become a viable kidney donor for his son — a loss of more than 60 pounds in just three months. “You can do it if you have reason,” he smiled.

He passed all the tests needed and saw all of the medical personnel needed to become an organ donor for his son. “The doctors said it was a very strong match and there was a high likelihood that it would be successful,” Steven Jr. said.

The transplant was a success. Steven Sr. was a changed man — physically and mentally. He did such a complete turnaround with his opinion about organ donation that he recalls telling the surgeons: “If I don’t wake up, my son gets both of my kidneys and I don’t care what you do with the rest.”

That was a radical change for a man who, prior to his son’s illness, insisted he was “going in the ground one whole body.”

It was a tense day for Ann who was dealing with both husband and son in surgery on the same day.

It took about seven months from diagnosis to transplant to full recovery. Mother, father and son cannot say enough good about the medical personnel and procedures they encountered along the journey.

“For people who are really critically ill, the healthcare system really does have the capacity to care for you immediately and quickly and provide you that level of care that you really need,” Steven Jr. praised. “It performs exceptionally well. I was fully confident throughout this entire process that I was going to be okay because I knew that they knew what they doing, they were on top of things, they were going to take care of everything. I did not have a single worry.”

Today, the entire family are supporters of the province’s Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act.

A photo of the father and son taken about a week after they had their surgeries in June 2010. (Submitted photo)

Steven Stewart Jr., right, with his father, Steven Stewart Sr., and mother Ann Shaw. He was the thankful recipient of a kidney donated by his father several years ago and today the family are all proponents of the province’s Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act.
(Jardine photo)