Hockey coach waiting for kidney donor trying to stay positive, despite hurdles
Stephen Gillis’ smile is infectious.
“I try to laugh… just try to keep living,” he said, moments after taking off bright red sunglasses that show he’s learned not to take anything too seriously.
It’s part of who he’s become, Gillis said – a lesson he’s learned while suffering quietly from Crohn’s disease since 2005, and over the past nine months since he learned that disease had attacked his kidneys.
“It could be worse,” he laughs. “I’m doing well despite what blood work, or what my chart may say.”
Gillis’ story first shot into the spotlight in January , when members of the Spirit, the Vancouver Minor Hockey Association Peewee team he coaches, put together a video advocating for a kidney donor to come forward, and celebrating his leadership on and off the ice.
“Stephen says 'Be good people and be good players,'” one of the young athletes said.
The video quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of views.
“It’s been amazing,” Gillis said about the 11- and 12-year-olds on the team. “They give me so much strength.”
His latest setback, not medical, but a fender bender last Thursday – a sideswipe by a truck he says tore through his car “like a bear claw.” The crash left him uninjured, but without wheels, and no easy way to get to his appointments, when the car rental company his insurance sent him to wouldn’t accept anything but a credit card for a deposit.
Now driving a car loaned to him by Michelle and Derrick Young, parents from his hockey team, Gillis is preparing for his next hurdle.
Six weeks into dialysis, and still waiting for a match, he’ll undergo surgery on Thursday to remove his colon so that when a kidney donor surfaces, he’s ready.
According to BC Transplant, more than 500 people are waiting for kidneys in B.C. Wait time can average anywhere from two to six years depending on a recipient’s blood type. And while finding a living donor who’s a match is never a sure thing, statistics show, chances are pretty good.
For example, according to BC Transplant, 80 per cent of patients who were waitlisted in 2011 received kidney transplants within five years.
“Our donation numbers have gone up,” said Dr. David Landsberg, BC Transplant Medical Director Donation Services and head of St. Paul’s Hospital kidney transplant program. “That means our waiting lists have gone down. That means more people are getting transplants.”
And those who aren’t a match for a friend or family member who may need a kidney are still able to help, through what’s called the Kidney Paired Donation Program, where their donation prioritizes the friend or family member’s needs, and find a donor more quickly.
“I think I’m just waiting for that call,” Gillis said, who understands that several potential donors have come forward since his team launched their video appeal.
“They’re a big reason that I’m going to power through all this. So I can be there for them again, next September.”