British Columbia

'My kidney brother': Hockey coach grateful to old friend's gift of life

A local peewee hockey coach received life-changing news when his friend offered to donate his kidney to him. Now, the pair hope others will take their story as an inspiration for generosity.

Stephen Gillis is set to receive his new kidney — from friend Michael Teigen — in February

Michael Teigen, an actor, is a match for Vancouver peewee hockey coach Stephen Gillis who was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. (Vancouver Theatresports/Facebook)

A Vancouver hockey coach is grateful to an old friend from improv for an especially precious gift — a new kidney.

Stephen Gillis, 39, who coaches a local peewee hockey team, was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease last year after years of living with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel ailment.

Gillis had noticed he was feeling drained, with weird cramps in his hands and feet. 

"I finally went to the doctor who sent me right to a [Vancouver General Hospital] emergency and I found out that I lost over 90 per cent of my kidney function and I only had about nine per cent left," Gillis said on CBC's On The Coast. 

Viral video

Gillis had to go on dialysis and was in dire need of a kidney transplant, which could take years on the wait-list.

At the time, Gillis had enrolled his team in the Good Deeds Cup — a national competition where peewee hockey teams perform community service and other good deeds in the community.

While the kids were raising money to sponsor a family in need's Christmas celebrations, the captain of the team and his mom found out about Gillis's condition and made a video imploring a potential donor to come forward.

The video went viral — but one view made all the difference.

'OK, let's get to work'

Michael Teigen, an actor, was an old friend of Stephen's. The two had met many years earlier while working at a local improv company, Vancouver TheatreSports, but they hadn't been in touch for a while.

Teigen recalled he had come home to his girlfriend and a friend of hers who was visiting. Both had seen the video and told him that Gillis's condition had worsened.

Stephen Gillis enrolled his peewee team in the Chevrolet Good Deeds Cup to teach them to contribute to their communities. (Stephen Gillis)

"And I said what condition? And what Stephen?" Teigen said. The two women showed him the video Gillis's hockey kids made. Right then, Teigen was moved to help his old friend in any way possible.

"We all looked at each other and said, 'OK, let's get to work.'"

'I'm the guy!'

Teigen said the process of becoming a donor involves many steps, including paperwork and tests such as scans and bloodwork.

When they announced that Teigen was a match and could donate directly to Stephen, he had a strong reaction:

"Yahoo! It's me! They picked me! I made it! I'm the guy!" he said, laughing.

Gillis, too, was elated to find out he had a donor. And even more so when he found out it was his old friend Michael.

"Obviously we're in contact all the time. I'm at his beck and call if he needs anything," he said.

'My kidney brother'

The two friends have reconnected and have been spending time together, including with their families, in the summer and over the holidays.

"It's kind of like [having] a brotherly figure. My kidney brother," Gillis said.

The transplant surgeries are scheduled to take place in February. Recovery time after the hospital stay will likely be six to eight weeks, said Teigen.

The pair hopes that being public with their story will encourage others to sign up to become an organ donor. 

Gillis says he's very fortunate for his hockey team and Teigen.

"There's many people at dialysis that don't have the same attention or coverage or help and we want to do what we can to help those and everyone else and save some lives."

Listen to the segment from On The Coast

December 18, 2019 In 2018, Vancouver's Stephen Gillis needs a kidney transplant. Lucky for him long time friend Michael Teigen is a match. Both men joined us in studio. 7:45

With files from On The Coast

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