British Columbia

A 'selfless' stranger offers Coquitlam SAR volunteer a kidney

A man who has spent years rescuing others wrote a social media post about his kidney disease and ended up finding four people willing to donate a kidney.

‘I have 2 healthy kidneys and supposedly we only need 1,’ a woman wrote to Michael Coyle

Michael Coyle, 49, and his son Eamon Fuller and their dog Curie. (Michael Coyle)

At 25, Michael Coyle discovered that he had a genetic disease that would leave his kidneys riddled with cysts by age 50.

He said he is adopted so he had no idea that kidney disease ran in his family. But what really threw him was what happened when he asked for help finding a potential organ donor on social media.

He got a message from a stranger within days who offered him a kidney.

"How could somebody be so selfless and brave," said Coyle, 49. "It was a very emotional thing. I told my partner. This person wants to give me a kidney."

And the offer is just in time as Coyle's doctors estimate he has about 18 more months before he'd either need a new kidney or dialysis treatment.

Michael Coyle, 49 and his partner, Sylvia Fuller, and their son, Eamon, pose on a beach. (Michael Coyle)

Coyle says he discovered that he had a genetic disease that leads to kidney failure when he was training to become a search and rescuer for Coquitlam SAR. During training, trainees took each others blood pressure — and his was oddly high for a fit young man, he said.

Coyle went through a battery of medical tests and discovered that he had polycystic kidney disease (PKD). He was told that his kidneys were growing cysts and would steadily decline.

In his case he couldn't do much about it. Lifestyle changes the doctor recommended — were things he already did. Coyle was a fit, vegetarian who loved the outdoors. So he says he kept living his life — rock climbing, skiing and helping to rescue people who get lost on mountain trails.

In 2010, he says he transitioned into more SAR management, less field work.

"I began to feel like I was a liability on rescues," said Coyle.

He often feels fatigued, so this spring he went to the kidney clinic and discovered that his kidney function was getting close to the threshold of what's considered kidney failure.

"My most recent blood work indicates my eGFR (Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate, a measure of kidney function) is 16 which places me within a hair's breath of kidney failure," he posted on June 7.

Start the search now

Doctors and nurses urged Coyle to try to find people who might donate a kidney so they could be tested as potential candidates. Finding a live donor before kidney failure leads to dialysis is optimal, medical experts say. If kidneys fail, the person is given dialysis.

Coyle was told he had polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and that his kidneys were growing cysts and would steadily decline. (Shutterstock)

A dialysis machine pumps the person's blood out for hours every week to clean the blood by removing waste, salt and extra water that would build up in the body without functioning kidneys. Kidney failure leads to unsafe chemical levels in the blood and high blood pressure. But dialysis treatment is hard on the body and patients can wait for years on an organ donation list, awaiting a kidney from a deceased donor.

A pre-organized live donation is often more successful, said Coyle. So, he wrote a note to his friends on social media, urging people to register to donate a kidney. Finding a matching donor who passes all the medical screening is difficult, so the more the better.

Not long after that he got a note from a stranger who asked his blood type and said they were O-negative. Coyle says the next bit of the stranger's message really got to him.

4 people now in line to try to help

"I have two healthy kidneys and supposedly we only need one," the woman wrote. She's now being tested to see if she is a viable candidate to donate.

Since he was approved for a transplant in July 2018, Coyle says three people have come forward "serious about giving me a piece of their body." Two are family members. He is not revealing how their tests went.

But he's hopeful speaking out will spark others to register.

"Everytime I think about the generosity of these people, I am overcome with emotion and it's hard for me to even write," he said.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

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