World Kidney Day has a special meaning for Ann Bolger and her five brothers. They all lined up to donate a kidney the first time she needed a transplant. And now, a second brother is back ready to help. 

Bolger had her first kidney transplant on December 11,1989 from brother, Tom Killorn. All five brothers had been tested and two were a match, but Tom was the best candidate.

After that transplant, doctors told her the kidney would last 10 to 15 years. The kidney far surpassed those expectations.

"I had the transplant and I felt great," recalled Bolger.  

"I really have had a pretty good time of it for 26 years and been healthy," she said. "They've watched me when I've given birth and watched me at certain points to keep an eye on me but it's been an amazing 26 years."

Bolger's message to Islanders on World Kidney Day is to understand the importance of the kidney as one of the body's vital organs. She also encourages Islanders to sign their organ donor cards and to talk to their next of kin.

'An amazing gift'

Ann Bolger kidney transplant daughter and Tom

Ann Bolger says the kidney donation from her brother Tom allowed her to watch her daughter Karina grow up. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

In 1992, Bolger became the first Executive Director for the P.E.I. Branch of the Kidney Foundation and worked part-time for the national office on organ donor awareness, a job she was passionate about. 

She married in 1994 and gave birth to a daughter, Karina, the next year. 

"What an amazing gift — when someone gives you an organ from their body, they are giving you life," Bolger said, in a news release for World Kidney Day.  "My brother, Tommy gave me life and as a result, I produced life. If he didn't give me that gift of life, I wouldn't have given Karina life. It's an amazing cycle."

But she has been in stage 4 renal failure for more than four years, which means her kidney is functioning at less than 20 per cent. 

Looking for another match

In December 2015, Bolger had dialysis for the first time. Again, five people stepped up to get tested to be live donors, and Bolger is hopeful she will receive a transplant this summer. The family is waiting to hear if a second brother, Joey, is a good match.

Ann Bolger kidney transplant 2

Two of Ann Bolger's brothers were a match for a kidney transplant. Tom (left) gave her one 26 years ago, and brother Joey is now being tested to see if he is a good match for the second transplant. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

"The fact that I'm going to turn fifty and I'm waiting for a second transplant, to me is quite phenomenal," said Bolger. "I am so blessed." 

Bolger observes that there have been huge advances in services available on P.E.I. since her first transplant.

"There's now a renal clinic on P.E.I. while I used to have to go to Halifax," she explained. "I have a social worker and a transplant coordinator and when I go for dialysis in Summerside, I have a whole team there."

The testing for a live donor can now also be done on P.E.I.  Even the operation is different.

"My brother Tommy had to have a rib removed because that's how they get to the kidney," said Bolger. "So they'd have to remove the rib and take the kidney out. And now the donor has it taken out laporoscopically. And they're out of hospital in two days."

'I'm best case scenario'

Ann Bolger kidney transplant dialysis

Ann Bolger is now in dialysis as she waits for a second kidney transplant. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

Bolger says being in dialysis is humbling.

"When I go dialysis, there's ten people there and half of them will never have a transplant because they have other issues. And then there's ones that have been on the cadaver donor list for two years."

Ann Bolger kidney transplant travels

Ann Bolger says having the kidney transplant from her brother allowed her to live a full life, including travelling around the world. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

"It's hard for me to talk about it when I'm there because I'm best case scenario."

"I can be on dialysis for a number of years," observed Bolger. "It's not like I need a heart transplant or a lung transplant or something where there is no support to keep me functioning."