'It was a miracle': Islander gets her 2nd kidney from grieving family

Ann Bolger has advocated for organ donation for decades, and recently, she became the recipient of a life-saving kidney donated by a grieving family.

'It was a miracle to imagine that this donation had saved these three lives'

Ann Bolger shows off a new pair of pyjamas on Mother's Day 2017, just over a week after the transplant surgery. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

Ann Bolger has advocated for organ donation for decades, and recently, she became the recipient of a life-saving kidney donated by a grieving family.

"Even though it's been my motto for many many years, I've never experienced it in this way," said Bolger.

"That I got a phone call and somebody — the family of a 19-year-old — donated the organs."

This was Bolger's second kidney transplant. The first one, 27 years ago, was a kidney donated by her brother.

"It was a level of gratitude that I don't know that I've ever known in my life to understand that this grieving family had lost their 19-year-old and gave this gift," said Bolger.

"It's someone I will never meet, someone I will never know, that saved my life."

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All of Ann Bolger's brothers stepped up to be tested when she needed a kidney transplant. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

The phone call

Bolger has been on the waiting list for a new kidney since Dec. 22, 2015.

"I was on and off the waiting list a couple of times over the 18 months, due to friends and family who were getting tested to give me a kidney that turned out not to be able to."

A friend had just been ruled out as a transplant possibility days before the call.

"I was sitting in the hair dresser's chair and not expecting it because I had just gone back on the list two days before because my friend wasn't able to give me a kidney," said Bolger, when she got the call from the transplant coordinator in Halifax.

"It's an out of body experience, it's like it's not real."

She headed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for one last dialysis treatment, then headed for Halifax.

"You have a bag at home that's been there for a year and it just numbs you and yet you're so excited."

Ann Bolger says the kidney donation from her brother Tom allowed her to watch her daughter Karina grow up. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

Three lives saved

The transplant surgery took place the evening of May 5, just over 24 hours after the call. 

"In the morning there was a liver transplant, in the afternoon another kidney, then me," said Bolger. 

"It was a miracle to imagine that this donation had saved these three lives."

Ann Bolger, on May 13, 2017, walking the hallways at the hospital with a friend. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

She said she would see the other transplant recipients in the hallway, as they also recovered, not talking but knowing they had gone through a shared experience.

"That some family, somewhere, in their deepest grief over losing a child were able to make the decision and give me my life," said Bolger.

"For them to allow someone else to live a healthy life as a result of their donations, I keep using the word remarkable because I don't know what else to call it," added Tim Bolger, Ann's husband.

Ann and Tim Bolger pose for a photo in March 2017 before the transplant surgery. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

Getting better

Tim admits it has been an emotional roller coaster waiting for the transplant, but that the recovery has been joyful to watch.

"The first thing I noticed, it was probably four or five days after the surgery, and her colour was back in her face," he said. 

"It just kind of floored me that she had that glow that was so recognizable, that seemed to have gone away and I didn't even know that it had left until I saw it come back again."

Ann Bolger sharing a celebratory meal with her family at a restaurant in Halifax, N.S., 13 days after her transplant surgery. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

He has been at his wife's side in Halifax as she makes the transition to outpatient, and soon back to the Island.

"We're still in the process of understanding completely the different feelings that are going to come with getting better," he said.

"I think that's going to take a little more time to fully grasp that."

Ann Bolger says the dialysis staff at QEH was wonderful to her over the 18 months she was waiting for a kidney. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

The new normal

"I have never felt better in my entire life," said Ann Bolger.

Before the transplant, her creatinine levels, which measure kidney function, were over 600.  A few days ago, the level was 111, within the normal range of 80 to 120.

"I never realized how sick I was and I feel totally different," she said.

"I can feel my body functioning."

Ann Bolger will be featured in a segment on the upcoming QEH Telethon talking about dialysis services. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)

'I am so grateful'

Bolger's transplant was just a week before Mother's Day, one that she knows would have been painful for the mother who had just lost her child.

"On Mother's Day, you sit there and I really wish she knew, the mother, what gift she has given to me," said Bolger.

She plans to write the mother a letter, which can have no identifiers in it, to express her gratitude.

"If it gives her peace to know that I will take care of her child's kidney," said Bolger.

"I am so grateful, it is a humbling experience."

Tom (left) gave Ann one of his kidneys 27 years ago. (Ann Bolger/Facebook)


Nancy Russell has worked as a reporter and producer with CBC, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Prince Edward Island. She can be reached at: