Health·Go Public

Organ exchange program slow to deliver on promise to man in need of a kidney, family says

A national program that matches living kidney donors with recipients hasn't delivered on a promise after a woman donated a kidney to a stranger so her ailing son-in-law could get a much-needed transplant, the family says.

Canadian Blood Services says overall, the kidney exchange program has been successful

A father of two in Moncton is still waiting for a new kidney despite signing up for a program matching living donors with people in need 2:21

A national program that matches living kidney donors with recipients hasn't delivered on a promise after a woman donated a kidney to a stranger so her ailing son-in-law could get a much-needed transplant, the family says.

CBC News investigates  ​

Estella Jamieson agreed to donate one of her kidneys, only after being assured her son-in-law would soon get a transplant. She says she decided to contact Go Public because he is still waiting.

"I know I helped somebody and I'm glad that family is going good, but I just feel if I would have waited I could have helped my own family more," a teary Jamieson says. 

Jamieson and her son-in-law, Jeff Pike, signed up for the Living Kidney Donor Paired Exchange Program a couple of years ago. It's run by Canadian Blood Services along with provincial transplant programs. 

The program matches people in need of a kidney with a stranger of the same blood type willing to donate. But, in order to get a kidney, the recipient needs a partner willing to donate a kidney to someone else as part of what's called a donor chain. 

Woman donates to save son-in-law

Pike, a 43-year-old father of two, suffers from a genetic disease called polycystic kidney disease that eventually leads to renal failure. Pike has known since his twenties he'd eventually need a transplant. 

Estella Jamieson is upset that Pike, her son-in-law, didn't get the kidney he was promised in exchange for one of hers. (CBC)

Jamieson gave her kidney to a stranger, so Pike could get one from another donor. 

"We did our half. My mother-in-law has helped improve someone's life but the return of her doing that, is someone would in turn help me at the same time — not some time down the road when the stars align. I can't help but feel like there are options out there that could speed things up," Pike says. 

Surgery cancelled

The surgeries were scheduled for February, but the day before Pike's procedure, he developed shingles and couldn't go through with the transplant. Jamieson donated a kidney anyway, on the promise her son-in-law would get a kidney when his health improved. Pike was medically cleared less than a month later but is still waiting. 

"I was assured Jeff would be top priority if I went through with the surgery. It's seven months later and he still doesn't have a kidney. Even if he had date ... but there's no date, there's nothing," Jamieson says.

While Pike waits, he can't work full-time and is physically weak. He also requires dialysis twice a day. 

CBS dedicated to making program work

Go Public took the family's concerns to Canadian Blood Services, asking about the delay in getting Pike's transplant, and when he might get a kidney.

Kimberly Young, director of donation and transplantation, says she can't comment on specific cases, but pointed out that the agency has to balance the medical and personal needs of a lot of people.

Samantha Pike worries about her husband Jeff's deteriorating health as he waits for a transplant match. (CBC)

In cases like Pike's, where a partner has already donated, Young says the person in need of a transplant is a priority and does not go back into the pool. But, she said, that doesn't mean there won't be setbacks and delays.

No information, says family

Pike says it's been frustrating trying to get information from Canadian Blood Services or the medical staff on his file. 

"I'm not suggesting that I'm special. My story of waiting for kidney transplant is not unique, but what makes my story unique is that we went into a program to give a kidney and get a kidney," he says.
"What I've been asking Canadian Blood Services for, is to make my case a priority. I waited a year for my mother-in law to be worked up. I then waited three months for a match to happen. I then waited 4½ months for a surgical date and now I've had to wait another seven months — and still nothing."

Program is a success, CBS says

According to Canadian Blood Services, 365 living donors have given a kidney since January 2009. The Living Kidney Donor Paired Exchange Program has dramatically reduced wait times, the agency says. Recipients wait an average of 4½ years for a kidney donation from deceased person and less than a year after a match is found through the exchange program.

Kimberly Young is the director of donation and transplantation at Canadian Blood Services. (CBC)

"We do believe this is a very good program. We are so proud of it as a community and I think the results speak for themselves," Young says. 

Despite all that's happened, Estella Jamieson says she would still recommend the program to others, with one caveat. 

"Don't get me wrong. I think it is a very good program and anyone with a loved one that wants to go into it, I'd say yes to go ahead. But make sure your loved one is getting a kidney when you give yours." 

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About the Author

Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.


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