British Columbia

B.C. pals run 5K together a year after one donated a kidney to keep the other alive

Vancouver hockey coach Stephen Gillis received a kidney from old friend Michael Teigen in 2020. The run is to raise awareness about the vulnerability of dialysis patients to COVID-19.

Event intended to raise awareness about vulnerability of dialysis patients to COVID-19

Vancouver actor, Michael Teigen, left, had not been in touch with his old friend, Stephen Gillis, right, for awhile when he learned he needed a kidney transplant. One year ago, the pair were wearing hospital gowns and undergoing surgery and on Thursday, the duo donned sneakers and clocked five kilometres around a Vancouver track. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

"I'm the one."

When Michael Teigen uttered those three words to his old friend Stephen Gillis a couple of years ago it changed their lives forever and, in Gillis's case, saved his.

In 2018, Gillis, a Vancouver minor hockey coach was told he needed a kidney transplant. His players put out a video plea for donors in 2019 that was seen by his old friend Teigen.

After discovering he was an appropriate donor match, Teigen surprised Gillis with the news and the pair underwent successful transplant surgery on Feb.18 2020.

One year to the date, the two men are healthy, happy and hitting a Vancouver track together to advocate for early COVID vaccinations for dialysis patients by running five kilometres.

Michael Teigen, left, an actor, is an old friend of Stephen Gillis, a minor hockey league coach. The two met while working at a Vancouver improv company and hadn't been in touch for a while before Teigen learned through an online video campaign that his pal needed a kidney. (Vancouver Theatresports/Facebook)

Victory laps

"Once you say something on TV or radio you gotta do it," said Gillis with a chuckle on CBC's The Early Edition Thursday morning shortly before the 10 a.m. run.

Since the life-saving surgery, the duo have given a few local media interviews and Gillis said he may have flippantly thrown around the idea of tackling the track once or twice while the spotlight was on.

"I don't run at all," he said with a bit of nervous laughter before he and Teigen headed to Sir Winston Churchill Secondary to do just that.

One year after he was given the gift of life with a new kidney, Gillis is advocating that dialysis patients be prioritized with the elderly population for COVID-19 vaccinations. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

But for Gillis, who was receiving hemodialysis treatments three days a week at Vancouver General Hospital before his transplant, the reason for the run is worth it.

"They are very, very vulnerable," Gillis said about COVID-19 for dialysis patients who are not only immunocompromised but also regularly have to go to hospitals for procedures during the pandemic.

He says he hopes the run brings the needs of this group to the attention of the B.C. government so they can be prioritized for  vaccine, along with the elderly.

Gillis, left, has called Teigen, right, his 'kidney brother' and joked that he owes his life-saving friend a few lawn mows and grocery shops for his kindly service. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Gillis said he also hopes by doing it he is setting a positive example for his players and other transplant patients.

Teigen is also setting the bar high when it comes to positive examples, and he has the stomach scars to prove it.

"It just seemed like a natural easy-peasy thing to do," said Teigen, about undergoing the surgery to save his friend.

'This past year, I've been able to look down at a couple of scars on my belly and say you did a good thing,’ said Teigen, adding he is grateful to have been able to help his friend. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Teigen said prior to the operation, he had never gone through a gauntlet of medical tests or been in the hospital before but mentally, he never wavered.

When asked if he ever regretted his decision, Teigen did not hesitate to respond: "Not one second."

Listen | Hear the two friends talk about their journey together:


With files from The Early Edition