Geoff Dunsire unwrapped the gift box, and looked at the picture – a kidney cradled in a pair of hands.
“That’s awesome,” he kept repeating. “Thank you.”
“We’re going to go on a journey together,” said Debbie Pearce, his donor and family friend.
Dunsire has struggled with health problems since his teen years, even battling a life-threatening illness. Now 30, he hopes a new kidney will improve his health.
Dunsire received a standard Hepatitis B vaccination when he was 13, but it gave him a liver disease called autoimmune hepatitis.
By 25, he needed a life-saving liver transplant. But after waiting so long for a match, he became gravely ill and his body started shutting down.
He was in Vancouver General Hospital for six months, during which his kidneys failed. He contracted a blood infection that traveled to his heart and brain, causing memory loss.
He was paralyzed from the neck down.
“Our family was taken aside three times and told that we should bring the family to see him and make arrangements because he wasn’t going to make it,” recalled his mother, Tracey Dunsire.
After 16 months in hospitals, he went home in a power wheelchair in December 2014. After rehabilitation on the treadmill, pool and gym, and several surgeries, Geoff Dunsire slowly regained the use of his limbs and can now walk unassisted.
Still, he spent over five years getting regular dialysis at Royal Columbian Hospital. He needs dialysis three times per week. Each session takes a full day and is an ordeal that leaves him physically exhausted.
He needed a live donor for a kidney transplant, due to his complex medical history.
He finally got one on Easter Sunday.
Debi Pearce and her husband Don were acting as realtors for the Maple Ridge family. She read about his need for a donor last summer.
“I had known Tracey’s son was quite sick, but I didn’t know the details,” said Debi Pearce.
“If I had a problem like this, I would really hope that someone would help me.”
Pearce has learned that her remaining kidney will expand to “take up the slack” left by the donation and said she has no apprehension – reassured by the medical professionals who will handle the transplant that after a month or two of recovery her life will be back to normal.
“The transplant people are very thorough. They’ve done all their homework.”
Only recently was Pearce confirmed as a donor match.
The Dunsires have become like family to her now, and she is looking forward to seeing Geoff Dunsire be able to get a job and resume the busy and active life he once had.
“He just wants the same things as the rest of us,” Pearce said.
“I think he’s pretty excited.”
His family knows what it means. There was a video of Pearce telling Dunsire that she could be his donor. Tracey got her family together and played it, and there was a lot of tears of happiness, clapping and relief.
There was also a celebratory cake, decorated to look like a kidney.
“Not kinda looked like a kidney – this looked like a kidney,” Tracey Dunsire said with a laugh.
“Today we can see the light at the end of the tunnel because of an incredibly selfless woman …” she said. “Debi Pearce is a wonderful woman with a heart of gold and she wants more than anything to help raise awareness for the need for donors.”
Pearce has been walking for 45 minutes twice a day to help get her blood-glucose levels where they need to be for the transplant. She is down 15 pounds.
She has also formed a team called “The Believers” and created a page for the Kidney Walk in Holland Park in Surrey.
The two families are planning to get together for a Hawaiian vacation as soon as Geoff Dunsire recovers from transplant this summer.
“I really encourage people to sign up to become an organ donor, and really impact six or eight lives,” said Pearce.