Edmonton woman hopes anonymous kidney donation inspires others to do the same

Mary McVeetors, a paralegal in Edmonton's Assiff Law Office, started the journey to donating her kidney with the simple idea that she wanted to help someone in need. 

The Kidney Foundation of Canada knows of seven anonymous kidney donations in 2019

Mary McVeetors decided 18 months ago to donate her kidney to a stranger. (Submitted by Mary McVeetors)

After 18 months of appointments and four hours of surgery, Mary McVeetors donated her kidney last week to a stranger

A paralegal in Edmonton's Assiff Law Office, McVeetors started her journey with a simple idea: she wanted to help someone in need. 

She eventually chose to donate a kidney, inspired by some research she completed and conversations she had about the procedure. She found it a low-risk operation that allowed her to improve someone else's quality of life.

"I've been so lucky with my health and with the hand that I've been dealt in my life, and I think that so many people are so unlucky when it comes to that, and it's not their fault," McVeetors told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Wednesday. 

"I just thought I could be a small part of the solution in the grander scale, but a massive part of the solution for one person."

McVeetors, 29, spent more than a year undergoing tests to make sure she was mentally and physically fit to follow through with the procedure, and to ensure there were no kidney problems in her family history. X-rays, ECGs, blood tests, and visits with psychologists, social workers and eventually a surgeon were all required.

Mary McVeetors, an Edmonton paralegal, anonymously donated her kidney to a stranger. (Submitted by Mary McVeetors)

She knew that some people wait five or six years for an organ donation. She said she hopes more people will consider the same procedure.

"There's people who are waiting on this list for so long, and it's awful," she said. "It's really awful to need a kidney, but it's not that hard to donate one."

After months of excitement, once she was lying on a gurney on her way into the OR, McVeetors started to feel nervous. But the operation was successful, leaving her with only the usual post-surgery fatigue and recovery.

While the recipient is a stranger, McVeetors knows it was a young boy. She will have to wait a year before she can meet the recipient, but said she's excited to one day talk to him.

"As soon as I found out it was a child, I just thought of his parents first thing," McVeetors said. "I can imagine how happy they must be and all the things that he's going to be able to do now."

Anonymous donations rare

At end of 2019, the Kidney Foundation of Canada said 613 Albertans were waiting for kidney transplants. Over the course of that year, 480 transplants were performed in Alberta.

The foundation estimates that 80 per cent of people on the organ transplant waitlist need a kidney.

Anonymous donations like McVeetors' are rare. The foundation living organ donor expense reimbursement program, which reimburses kidney, liver and lung donors for things like travel, accommodations, childcare and meals, knows of just seven Albertans who donated anonymously in 2020.

Across Canada, the organ donor rate in 2019 was 21.8 per million people. While that number has risen over the past decade, it still lags far behind other countries like Spain and the United States.

McVeetors said she hopes her donation can spark conversations, and get more people to think about doing what she did.