Like many kids growing up in Canada, Dave Ayres wanted to play hockey for the NHL. He was 25 and at a hockey training camp when his feet became so swollen he couldn’t put on his skates. Then one day while driving, he became so dizzy he nearly hit someone. It was Thanksgiving weekend when he ended up in the ER. His kidneys were working at 15 per cent capacity and he had to start dialysis immediately. Three days a week, four hours at a time, for the next seven months. Then in May, he came to St. Michael’s Hospital’s Kidney Transplant and Care Centre, where he received a new kidney, courtesy of his mom.
Dave’s case is not unusual, but he was one of the lucky ones. In Canada, one in 10 people has kidney disease – that’s the population of Vancouver and Calgary combined. It’s a chronic disease with no chance of remission. And it’s considered a silent killer because there are few symptoms – apart from the swelling and dizziness, like in Dave’s case, there can be fatigue, chills, back pain, itching – but it’s still difficult to detect. With an aging population, increasing rates of obesity and high blood pressure, and an epidemic of diabetes (the leading cause of kidney disease), the numbers are only going up.
Some people can live with kidney disease for years, and many do – when it’s caught early enough and treated properly. But in too many cases, the kidneys fail, leaving only two options: dialysis or a kidney transplant. Dialysis can take over a person’s life. And it’s not a life saver: half of patients 65 years of age and older starting dialysis today will not be alive in five years. And while transplant is by far the best solution, 3,600 Canadians are on the waiting list. It’s not a permanent fix either: a kidney from a deceased donor will last on average 10 to 15 years, and from a living donor 15 to 20 years.
Thankfully, St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto has one of the largest – and most effective – kidney centres in Canada. Half a century after it launched, it’s renowned for its kidney transplant success rates. It has pioneered minimally invasive surgical techniques that are vastly improving recovery from transplants for both donor and recipient. It was the first in North America to use a blood-cleaning procedure to allow for blood-type incompatible transplants, and the first in Canada (with Toronto General Hospital) to pilot a kidney exchange program that is now the national standard. Its transplant program serves the most diverse population in the country, if not the world, many of whom are first-generation Canadians. St. Michael’s cutting-edge research in new diagnostic tools and drug therapies will one day eliminate the scarring that damages kidneys in the first place.
St. Michael’s is also now building a bigger, state-of-the-art facility to accommodate the surging demand. When it’s completed, the new centre will have the latest exam rooms and procedure areas that provide life-saving interventions for urgent cases. It will have spaces for personalized education so patients can learn how to manage their life-long disease. It will have comfortable sitting areas where patients can relax and exhale. And it will have research space where physicians and scientists can work side-by-side to fast track innovations.
St. Michael’s Kidney Transplant and Care Centre is home to some of the world’s leading nephrologists, surgeons, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, educators and scientists who are dedicated to a single area of organ research and practice: kidneys. No hearts, lungs or livers. Just kidneys.
The new space is critically important because it will enable the centre’s specialists to move kidney care to the next level: easier access for patients; more personalized care for both recipients and living donors in one area; and the ability to link the basic research directly to the patients, in hopes of reversing kidney transplant scarring, which means more lives saved.
Dave received his new kidney 14 years ago. Today, both he and his mom are thriving. He even went on to play six seasons as a back-up practice goalie for the Toronto Marlies, and he’s now an emergency goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I didn’t want the transplant to dictate my life,” he says. “The doctors at St. Michael’s told me to go ahead and live.
“It’s exactly what I’m doing.”
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