Nineteen years, 228 months, 6,935 days, 166,440 hours—but who’s counting? Health Sciences Centre kidney transplant patient Kathy Urban is. Since receiving her kidney in 2001, every second is a gift.
Beausejour-born, Winnipeg-raised Urban is no stranger to the health care system. A retired health information services supervisor of 35 years, Urban was diagnosed in her early twenties with bilateral polycystic kidney disease, a chronic disease where cysts grow inside the kidneys, causing them to fail.
For the next 22 years, Urban dealt with many appointments, followed by anxiously waiting for results, until the dreaded day came in December of 1999. “At my routine check-up, I was informed that I’d be on dialysis within the year. I don’t even remember how I got home that day—I just cried and cried and cried,” says Urban.
A snowbird with Andy, her husband of 42 years, the couple went to Florida for what she worried would be her last time before being tethered to a machine for dialysis. Urban took home a souvenir from that trip that she will always remember: a pair of shoes that stopped her in her tracks outside a store window. Delicate and gold-woven with a clear heel, Urban fondly dubbed the shoes her “Cinderella slippers”.
Despite Urban’s feet having swelled to the size of balloons—a symptom of kidney failure—she purchased the shoes never thinking she would see the day where she could wear them, but hoping she somehow could.
Urban held on to a dialysis-free existence for nearly two years before it was time to create an arteriovenous fistula in her arm, granting the dialysis machine long-term access to her blood while waiting for a transplant.
Mere weeks after the fistula surgery, Urban answered a life-altering phone call; this time, happy tears ensued. “I received the call from Transplant Manitoba just before 4 pm asking if I wanted a kidney, as a good match was available,” says Urban. However, she needed to get to Canadian Blood Services across from HSC by 5 pm for mandatory testing to ensure compatibility.
Turns out, she was. By 7 pm, Urban arrived at HSC for admission; by 11 am, she was on the operating table.
The following six months were a rollercoaster, including the down of a post-operation complication, followed by many ups. “One of the first things I did when I came home from the hospital was try on my Cinderella shoes. The memory of them fitting is one I’ll never forget,” says Urban.
Thankfully, Urban was able to board an airplane again. Last spring, she was on a plane to Ottawa as the Manitoba Ambassador for the launch of Green Shirt Day on April 7, a nation-wide movement that raises organ and tissue donation awareness, and honours Logan Boulet, the 21-year-old Humboldt Bronco hockey player whose organs were donated after he died in a tragic bus crash in 2018.
Like clockwork, Urban returns to HSC on her transplant anniversary with a thank-you card for her donor’s family and sweet treats for the staff. “Even after all these years, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of this kidney—I am thankful for every day, every moment. I am also thankful for HSC—it was my second home after my kidney transplant. HSC is an amazing place and Manitobans are lucky to have it, and to be celebrating 50 years of the Manitoba Transplant Program at HSC,” says Urban.
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By Natasha Havrilenko