'Forever grateful:' Michael Saunders gets life-altering kidney after 4½-year wait
Saint John man, on dialysis since 2013, was 'married to a chair' until organ became available in October
This time last year, Michael Saunders was watching spring training on television, knowing three-times-weekly dialysis treatments would once again keep him from his annual trip to a major league ball park.
"You're sort of married to a chair," said Saunders, describing his four-and-a-half year wait for a new kidney.
"It's very restrictive, it's a very disciplined lifestyle, where you have to watch what you eat, you can't eat anything with high potassium because your heart might [enlarge]. I could never travel, because you have to stay close to your chair."
This year, the Saint John man is looking forward to baseball season, and watching from the stands, having finally received a transplant in October.
Saunders has a rare condition called Goodpasture syndrome, which is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the kidneys. He was listed for an organ soon after his diagnosis in 2013.
After three years spent waiting, he agreed to be added to the cadaver transplant list when a live match couldn't be found.
"That means someone has to pass away, and a computer-generated system picks the best match. Finally, one was picked for me … that was just mind-boggling," Saunders said.
It was so great to be able to watch him chow down and even drink a full glass of water, because you can't on dialysis, and he hadn't done so in years.- Alex Saunders
He received his kidney on Oct. 18, 2017, one day after getting the call to go to hospital in Halifax.
"You just go numb," he said. "You just can't believe it.
"You struggle with it. You feel bad that somebody has to pass away for me to receive a new kidney.
"Two other people got organs too — two kidneys and then the liver the person donated. I'm forever grateful."
The road to recovery post-transplant has been difficult, Saunders said. He faced a three-week hospital stay, and additional challenges the first several weeks at home.
Before the transplant, his bladder and kidneys did not work at all.
"And so the plumbing didn't work right, but after about six weeks, things started to work out better," he said.
"You're always nervous and you always think it's going to shut down and reject. You just don't know."
"Everything is new, and you're always in panic mode … the brain plays funny things on you."
But Saunders is "spectacularly motivated to recover," said his daughter, Alex Saunders.
"We took him out to the buffet … and it was so great to be able to watch him chow down and even drink a full glass of water, because you can't on dialysis, and he hadn't done so in years."
Saunders said he has an improved quality of life all because someone signed their organ donor card.
Sign donor cards
"I'm very thankful the donor stepped up," Saunders said.
"I want people to be aware that people need kidneys. If they sign their donor cards, people like me in kidney failure have an opportunity to get one.
"And the person who passes away can change lives."
With his new-found freedom from the dialysis chair, Saunders has booked a trip in April to see the Boston Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays for three games.
"I'm a baseball nut," he said.
March is Kidney Awareness month.
Nearly 80 per cent of the more than 4,500 Canadians on the waiting list for an organ transplant need a kidney, says the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
With files from Information Morning Saint John