Desperate attempt for kidney pushes Kelowna man's search overseas

At age 32, Jes Jaswal has spent much of his life waiting for a kidney. His case is so specialized doctors say his chances are extremely low. That's forced him to start searching abroad.

Donor numbers still low in Canada

Jes Jaswal feels the end of his life is near, so he's trying to come up with the funds to expand his kidney search overseas. (Gary Moore/CBC)

A 32-year-old Kelowna man with a history of what doctors call "bad luck" is making one last desperate attempt to find a kidney match. Jes Jaswal, who has lived more than half his life with no kidneys, is expanding his search to India and China.

"I feel like I'm kind of pushing the envelope here. The end is probably pretty near and I don't want that to happen."

Despite being a high priority on the provincial and national donor lists in Canada, doctors have given Jaswal a less than one per cent chance of ever finding a match. Two previous transplants and several blood transfusions mean he's been exposed to a number of different antigens — making him about 100 per cent resistant.

"Essentially, he has developed immunity to a lot of the general population. He needs to find either a nearly identical or identical-to-his-current-HLA match which is very challenging," said Jaswal's doctor Scott Lyle.

Jaswal and his family look at old photos. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Jaswal is an extreme example and there are many others who have a better chance of finding a match, but there simply aren't enough people donating organs particularly kidneys.

Kidneys are the most sought after in Canada. Out of more than 600 people on B.C.'s transplant list in 2016, about 80 per cent were waiting for that organ. While the number of deceased organ donations has increased in the last 10 years, the rate of living donations has gone down by 11 per cent.

"It doesn't meet the need. We still have a very long waiting list, and we still have many patients who are waiting many years for transplants.  We're doing better, but we could do even better than that," said Dr. David Landsberg with B.C. Transplant.

Despite being aware of the risks, Jaswal thinks his chances could be better in countries with larger populations.

"I hope I find a kidney close to home rather than going abroad. You always hear horror stories about operations taking place in those countries," he said.

Landsberg says this speaks to how much turmoil many patients are experiencing, but he hopes they can wait a little longer.

Dr. David Landsberg stands outside St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

Bad luck from an early age

Jaswal has been searching for the miracle kidney since he was nine months old — that's when he was given medication to dissolve kidney stones, but the drugs caused complications and meant he would live on just half a kidney until the age of seven.  At that point, he received a transplant, but the freedom of having a new organ dwindled quickly, because it turned out to be cancerous.

The 32-year-old spent the next two months in a coma receiving steroids and from age seven to 12 he experienced his first stint at being kidneyless — undergoing dialysis at home every day.  Just after entering high school, he got some good news in the form of a second kidney transplant.

"It didn't last though. My second transplant rejected in 2005 and I've been living again on dialysis ever since."

One of the many times Jes Jaswal was forced to stay in hospital as a child awaiting a kidney transplant. (Jes Jaswal)

Hope for a normal life

According to the Kidney Foundation, most patients in Jaswal's condition are 65 years or older and so he has always been decades younger than everyone else in the waiting room. He's hooked up to a dialysis machine several days a week, which also means he's away from home seven hours each of those days and then sleeps the rest of the time.

Jaswal longs for the days when he can spend time with his daughter and help take care of his parents by getting a job — so he's sharing his story in hopes it will encourage more Canadians to become living and non-living donors.

"You have two kidneys and you just need one to live. You don't need your body parts after you're deceased, so [you could help] not only me but for anyone waiting on a transplant list," said Jaswal.

Jaswal rarely gets to spend time with his daughter as he is too tired after constantly being on dialysis. (Jes Jaswal)

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