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A New Lease on Life for Newcomer

April 23, 2021

Donor-funded HSC Transplant Wellness Centre transformative for organ transplant recipients and hopeful recipients

Amel (left) and Saad Abdulrasool: “My husband is completely different after his transplant; now he can eat, breathe, play with our children.”

How are you? How is your day? What did you do this weekend? These are all questions frequently exchanged between friends. For newfound friends Tracey Craigon and Saad Abdulrasool, “How’s my kidney?” is also on the roster of questions.

On July 23, 2020, Craigon donated her kidney to Abdulrasool. “I did it because I could. The opportunity presented itself and I knew that I could save a life,” says Craigon.

If the world has six degrees of separation, Winnipeg has one. Abdulrasool’s translator, a mutual friend of Craigon, introduced them a year and a half before the transplant surgery. “The more that I got to know Saad, the more I wanted him and his family to experience a new lease on life,” notes Craigon.

Abdurasool, his wife Amel, and their three school-aged children fled to Turkey from Iraq before coming to Winnipeg in 2017.

Putting down roots in a new country wasn’t foreign to Abdulrasool; unfortunately, neither was kidney failure. Abdulrasool first received a donated kidney in 2006 and it was failing drastically. “The day I landed in Winnipeg I went straight to the family doctor. She sent a text right away to the transplant clinic to get me a referral,” says Abdulrasool.

Despite his immediate action to improve his health, the work involved in being matched for a kidney is a critical process that can’t be rushed. For Abdulrasool and Craigon, the many tests and appointments to ensure Craigon was safely able to donate a kidney and that her kidney was a match, lasted just over a year.

For this pair, and many others, they received pre-operative care at the Adult Renal Transplant Clinic—a space where patients living with kidney failure having been coming to for over 50 years.

“Kidney transplants started in Manitoba in 1969—we have been in the same space for all of those years,” says Dr. Peter Nickerson, Medical Director of Transplant Manitoba. “Our program has been growing right from the beginning; however, our space did not keep pace until the opening of the HSC Transplant Wellness Centre in July of 2020.”

The HSC Transplant Wellness Centre is located on the third floor of Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine on the HSC campus.

Transplant Manitoba went from having around 500 square feet of clinic space to 11,400 square feet in the HSC Transplant Wellness Centre. Not only was the clinical space too small, outdated, and unable to match Manitoba’s growing need for transplant care, Transplant Manitoba staff were scattered across the HSC campus. “On top of many other attributes, patients can now get their bloodwork done within the HSC Transplant Wellness Centre. For those with a suppressed immune system, not having to go all over the hospital is crucial,” says Dr. Nickerson.

Saad and Amel Abdulrasool with Abdulrasool’s living donor, Tracey Craigon: “Being a living kidney donor is incredibly rewarding—I can see the impact that I have had for the Abdulrasools. Being a financial donor is similar—you can be a part of all of these wonderful experiences with the people you have helped.”

While kidney transplants are the only organ transplants performed in Manitoba, the HSC Transplant Wellness Centre does all the integral pre- and post-operation work for Manitobans who need to travel outside the province for liver and lung transplants.

Post-transplant, Transplant Manitoba continues to care for all transplant recipients to help ensure long-term success. “This new space is transformative for patients. We are part of the patient’s life before, during, and after their transplant and we now can welcome them to a space of wellness as opposed to a place to go to when sick,” says Dr. Nickerson. “HSC is the only hospital in our province that provides transplant care for kidney, liver and lung; without this new space, we would not have been able to optimize and expand our transplant and living kidney donor programs. We are grateful for those who support this work and share our vision.”

“The HSC Transplant Wellness Centre is also a place of education. We put on classes and information sessions for donors and recipients,” says Dr. Nickerson.

This vision has proven to be transformative for Abdulrasool, who now visits the HSC Transplant Wellness Centre every two weeks for bloodwork. Amel notes that the changes in her husband are like night and day. Prior to his transplant, Abdulrasool was choking, vomiting; he couldn’t breathe. His blood simply didn’t have enough oxygen. Now, he can eat, breathe, play with his children, and continue his education.

“This is our first time in Canada, and we love everything about it—especially the people,” says Abdulrasool.

Among those people are generous kidney donors like Craigon, compassionate staff at Transplant Manitoba, unparalleled health care practitioners at HSC Winnipeg, and generous philanthropists to the HSC Foundation.

“Being a living kidney donor is incredibly rewarding—I can see the impact that I have had for the Abdulrasools. Being a financial donor is similar—you can be a part of all of these wonderful experiences with the people you have helped,” reflects Craigon.

The HSC Transplant Wellness Centre cost $4.5 million and was made possible by the Province of Manitoba and two anonymous gifts to the HSC Foundation. Thanks to this support, HSC Winnipeg is able to provide more timely care, achieve more positive outcomes, and bring comfort to Manitobans.



By Natasha Havrilenko