20 years after dad gave son a kidney, they aim to help others

This year a father and son are putting on an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their transplant and to raise money to help others in the same situation.

Neither father nor son could imagine 20 years ago how well the transplant has turned out

This Halloween marks 20 years since Ken Angus gave his son, David, a kidney. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

When a father and son walked into St. Joe's Hospital in Hamilton so one could give a kidney to the other in 1997, doctors said they hoped the kidney would work for seven years.

But the father and son, Ken Angus and David Angus, have almost tripled that.

It's been 20 years since Ken underwent surgery to give his son a kidney, and 19-year-old David had the surgery to receive it.

Every year, they get together.

"Halloween to me is going out for dinner with my dad," David said.

And this year they're putting on an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their transplant and to raise money to help others in the same situation.

David Angus's kidney trouble started when he was very young. He spent long stints at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto – his parents traveling back and forth from London as often as they could.

'What parent wouldn't donate?'

By the time he was in high school, doctors started talking about a transplant.

"I didn't take the news well," David said. "It's pretty scary to think about at that age."

His dad was a match, and was willing to give up one of his kidneys.

"What parent wouldn't donate to save the life of their kid?" Ken, now 71, said.                           

They didn't imagine things would go as well as they did.

A couple of months earlier, David had a then-new procedure to remove both kidneys laproscopically. A clamp burst, he had internal bleeding and he had to have surgery to fix it. A nurse told him it had been a "close call".

A family snapshot shows David and his parents about six months before the transplant surgery, which took place when David was 19. (Angus family)

The night before the surgery, David was in an isolated room to keep from getting sick. He got anxious, and called his dad around 10 p.m.

"There's a lot of uncertainty," David said. "Not quite sure how things would go."

But Ken didn't hesitate before consoling his son.

"I always felt going through this process, that in the end, things were going to work out and be OK," Ken said.

'I hope you guys are really doctors'

The day of the surgery, Halloween, the two were in adjacent operating rooms.

Without knowing it, both made the same joke to their respective surgical teams something along these lines:

"I hope you guys are really doctors, not just dressed up for the day."

Immediately after surgery, David had some complications – his body was trying to reject the kidney. In the months that followed, he developed and beat, lymphoma.

He wouldn't have believed the way his life would unfold, 20 years into the future.

"Because how do you say you're going to get through cancer, too?" he said. "Being able to look back and say, 'You're still here, so just hang on tight, because there's going to be a lot of ups and downs but you're still here."

Dr. Anil Kapoor (left) and Dr. Rahul Bansal (right) performed a transplant surgery at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton earlier this year. David Angus had a kidney transplant at St. Joe's 20 years ago. (Peter Power/St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton)

'Something to give back and say thanks'

This year, David wanted to do something to help others who are in the same shoes – specifically in Hamilton, where the surgery changed his life.

They're holding a fundraiser Oct. 28 at the Collective Arts brewery on Burlington Street. A band that David was listening to on repeat around the time of the surgery will play a show: The Lowest of the Low. And there will be a silent auction and raffle.

"Just being able to help anyone that is going through this process – it's not an easy process to go through," David said.

It's all to generate support for Kidney Foundation of Canada programs that allow people on kidney dialysis to go away to a resort where they can receive treatments while having a vacation with their families.

David says some money will be earmarked to help people with kidney disease in Hamilton who have limited means to access medication, transportation to appointments or other treatments that would be otherwise out of reach.

"We wanted to do something to give back and say thanks," Ken said. "We also wanted to get the message out that there's always hope. These specialists know what they're doing."


About the Author

Kelly Bennett

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Kelly Bennett is an award-winning reporter who lives in Hamilton. She grew up in Victoria and covered economics and arts as an investigative reporter in San Diego. She loves digging into great stories, hiking and playing the violin. Drop her a line anytime at kelly.bennett@cbc.ca.