Saskatoon

'This gift of life': Organ donation advocate gets kidney donor after years of waiting

After years of dealing with kidney problems, Monica Goulet has found a living donor in her nephew Jim Searson.

Monica Goulet has become an advocate for organ donation

Monica Goulet finally has a match. (Monica Goulet/Facebook)

Monica Goulet's long and arduous search for a new lease on life is coming to an end.

In 2017, she was featured in a CBC story about kidney transplants and the waits people looking for new kidneys have to endure.

Now, after five donors were rejected, she has a living match. Goulet is set to undergo transplant surgery on March 26.

"It's almost unbelievable, there's like a surreal quality to the whole experience, because I've basically been on medical leave from the Saskatoon Police Service … since 2011," Goulet said.

"It's pretty amazing, and I don't even think there's adequate words to express my gratitude and how my family and I are feeling about this gift of life."

'Like winning the lottery'

Jim Searson, Goulet's nephew, was found to be a 100 per cent match with Goulet.

The Canadian Ranger and Red Cross employee said the decision to donate his kidney started with a discussion with his wife, Tammy Cook-Searson, chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

Monica Goulet's granddaughter Ava knows the routine around Goulet's dialysis. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

He said he had a good feeling about the process even before testing actually started.

"I knew we'd be a match, right from the beginning, I already felt that it was going to be Monica's kidney," Searson said.

He said getting the phone call and finding out he and Goulet matched was "like winning the lottery." He realized that he was going to be giving his aunt a better life.

Searson said that in Goulet's body, his kidney will be good for about 20 years and will begin working right away, meaning she will no longer have to undergo dialysis treatments.

Second major operation

Goulet is no stranger to surgery.

She had one of her kidneys removed almost 30 years ago, when she was 26. Since then she contracted kidney disease in her other one.

Over the last few years she's undergone different methods of dialysis treatment in order to maintain her quality of life.

In April of 2018 she contracted a severe case of shingles and her body reacted poorly to the medication she was prescribed.

"They gave me antiviral medication and then they gave me hydromorphone and my body reacted by having myoclonic spasms," Goulet said.

"My body couldn't filter out [the medication] because my kidney function was so low."

Mentally, spiritually, physically prepared for surgery

Goulet said she's calm and mentally at peace with what she's about to undergo.

"When you get that news, you're just over the top with excitement," she said. "As excited as you get, and what tends to happen to me, is I get very excited and then I end up overdoing it."

Through the process, Goulet said she's kept praying to be spiritually strong for the surgery.

When you get that news, you're just over the top with excitement.- Monica Goulet

In her work with with the Saskatoon Police Service she was able to work with Indigenous elders.

"When the elders found out about my health crisis, they arranged to do a traditional pipe ceremony in my home," she said. "I think that really helped a lot in terms of knowing you've got this collective energy around you."

Addressing quality of life changes through book

Goulet plans to use her three- to six-month recovery time after surgery writing a book about her experiences.

"It's an important story and I think one of the things I realized is there's a real lack of awareness in the community about the need for more donors and the quality of life," Goulet said.

Goulet received the news that she was going to be getting a new kidney while having lunch with friends. (Monica Goulet/Facebook)

Goulet said she's had to have three infusions of iron while she was on hemodialysis to be healthy enough to undergo the transplant.

She said it's a day-by-day struggle to stay alive, healthy and happy at the same time.

Live donor, recipient advocate for changes, support

Goulet has become an advocate for organ donation. She said it's one of the greatest gifts a person could give.

"One of the upsides is, you get a complete picture of your health if you go through that process," Goulet said. "The government of Saskatchewan really needs to step up when it comes to providing support for potential donors."

She said one of the biggest barriers for potential donors is affordability, particularly travel costs for potential donors.

Searson said he used all of his sick days and paid some expenses out of his own pocket to travel between La Ronge and Saskatoon.

Other problems Goulet highlighted include the ability for someone to prevent a family member's organs from being donated, even if the dead person wanted them to be.

"I don't think they should have the power to do that," Goulet said.

If you ever want to donate a kidney, you should trust your instincts.- Jim Searson

She also called on the government to change the rules so people have to opt-out of donating rather than the current opt-in system.

Searson called on anyone who might be on the fence about becoming an organ donor to do so.

"If you ever have that feeling like I did, I just got that feeling and acted on it right away," Searson said.

"If you ever want to donate a kidney, you should trust your instincts, and I feel so blessed that knowing, I call it our kidney, will get to change lives, not only for my aunt Monica, but her siblings, her children, her grandchildren and her many friends that she has."

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Reporter

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he reported in central and northern Saskatchewan. Send news tips to Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

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