New Brunswick

How a mom gave her son 6 more years of life

Both Suzanne and Terry Hunter know well the importance of organ donation. Both have donated their kidneys. Suzanne to her ailing son Ian, extending his life by six more years. Terry's donation was to a stranger.

Terry Hunter has donated a kidney to a total stranger after seeing his son receive one

Ian and Suzanne Hunter are shown after Ian's kidney transplant surgery. Suzanne donated one of her kidneys to her son. (Submitted by Suzanne Hunter)

Suzanne Hunter's decision to donate one of her kidneys was easy. It was to her son, Ian, who was diagnosed with diabetes at 22 months and by the time he was in his late teens, his kidneys were failing.

"No one wants to see their child suffer and if there's anything you can do to relieve that, you will, you would do it," she said.

Diabetes would eventually rob Ian of his ability to walk and see. Six years after his 2001 kidney transplant, he had to go back on dialysis. He passed away in 2015, at the age of 42.

But it gave him six more years of family dinners, cheering for his beloved Maple Leafs and enjoying the outdoors.

"Six years he wouldn't have had otherwise," Suzanne said.

Terry Hunter poses with son Ian in 2013. Ian passed away two years later from the effects of diabetes. (Submitted by Suzanne Hunter)

Ian's father, Terry, had a different blood type and was not a match for his son. But so moved was he by seeing Ian's life extended, he decided to donate one of his own kidneys to a total stranger.

If you have any inclination that you would like to save somebody else's life, then you should check it out.— Suzanne Hunter

"As a family, we know the impact that kidney disease has," Terry said. "I just thought, 'I can help somebody out in a big, big way. I had no reservations."

The Hunters would like others to know the rewards of being a living organ donor or making it known you wish to donate your organs after you die.

They recently returned from Chicago for a rally with hundreds of other living organ donors and recipients. They said there were "so many heartbreaking and touching stories."

The Hunters, of Stickney, N.B., say they have had no health complications from their surgeries or living with one kidney. But they encourage anyone thinking of donating an organ to get all the facts.

"You can't say to somebody else, you should go and donate," Suzanne said. "If they don't feel it in their heart, if they don't feel this is what they need to do, then chances are they won't. But if you have any inclination that you would like to save somebody else's life, then you should check it out."

Terry and Suzanne Hunter got tattoos with the green ribbon symbolizing organ donation. (Submitted by Terry Hunter)

Terry hasn't met the person to whom he donated his kidney in 2013 in Nova Scotia. He understands why there is confidentiality around organ donation.

"There are some scary stories about people who have donated, someone else has their kidney now, and the donor sees the recipient smoking, or drinking or not being as healthy as the donor thinks they should be."

But it hasn't stopped him from wondering.

"I would like to know, is the kidney still functioning well, how are they doing? If it's not working, I did what I could, and I have satisfaction in knowing that."

With files from CBC's Shift NB