Tyler returns to the waiting list
The last time The Morning Star met Tyler Watson, he was two years old, sporting bright yellow overalls and scooting down a plastic toddler-sized slide in his living room.
Now 19 and wearing a hoodie and jeans, the Vernon secondary school graduate is 6-foot 1 and has long outgrown his toys.
He’s come a long way since he underwent a life-saving kidney transplant at B.C. Children’s Hospital, thanks to a healthy kidney donated by his father.
Then just nine months old, Tyler was born with severe damage to his kidneys and in July 1998, he became the smallest and youngest kidney transplant recipient in British Columbia history when he received a kidney from his dad, Corey Watson.
“Life has been pretty normal — I’ve been sick a few times, but other than that it’s been pretty good,” said Tyler, relaxing with his mom, Renee Webber, in the living room of the family’s Mission Hill home.
But transplanted kidneys don’t last forever and Tyler’s is no exception. He is back on the transplant list and undergoing dialysis three times a week.
“After the transplant, he did really, really well,” said Webber. “His kidney lasted 16 years — the average is 10 years. Tyler got really sick a couple of years ago and his kidney function kept decreasing until he had to go on dialysis.”
Tyler was unable to return to the peritoneal dialysis he had as a child because of the excess of scar tissue on his abdomen. Instead, he undergoes hemodialysis by way of a fistula, an access made by joining an artery and vein in the arm. The raised bump on Tyler’s upper left arm allows blood to travel through soft tubes to the dialysis machine where it is cleaned as it passes through a special filter called a dialyzer.
Hemodialysis is not available to children in the Okanagan but as an adult, Tyler is able to do his dialysis in Vernon. Three times a week, four hours a session, he is hooked up to a machine at the Vernon Community Dialsysis Unit run by BC Renal. He spends his time playing games on a handheld device, watching TV or chatting with the nurses, all of whom he calls “awesome.”
But the dialysis that does the work of his kidneys — cleaning the blood by removing excess waste and water — is a temporary measure until Tyler is able to get a kidney donated.
“I was tested last time and I was a match and I did get tested again and then because he had a transplant previously he has built up antibodies that will destroy my kidney so I’m no longer a match,” said Webber. “So that was a big disappointment because of course living donors are better than cadaver donors. They take better, they last longer.”
Over the years, Webber said humour and a positive attitude have gone a long way in getting her family through the tough times.
“I think humour is a big thing, but I think that Tyler’s done so well at coping with it that I think the only time I’ve felt super scared is when he said something was wrong,” said Webber, who is also mom to Landen, 10, and Tenille, now grown up, married and with two sons — Webber’s grandsons, Andrew and Noah. “Tyler had really good stints of good health for a long time and then it was just getting worse.
“We’ve also had lots of support right from the beginning; my mom is here, his aunties — my sisters are 26 and 22 and Tyler’s close to them. When Tyler was younger we were in and out of the hospital a lot and, Tenille spent most of her time with Corey’s mom and she was amazing.
“I always thought positive, I think that if you don’t you’d get really depressed. Tyler had a lot of bladder infections, that was one thing that kept us in the hospital quite a bit, and kidney infections and stuff like that, but he was always so good about it. We’d just hang out in the hospital.”
According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, there are 4,433 Canadians waiting for a donor organ, with 75 per cent of those waiting for a kidney. In Canada, 52 per cent of kidney transplants are from living donors. The median wait time for a deceased donor transplant is 3.9 years, which is why the foundation asks all Canadians to consider living organ donation. Most people have two kidneys and a healthy person can donate one because the kidney has the ability to greatly increase its workload and do the work for two.
For Watson, life after transplant meant he was able to do all of the things kids love to do. There were regular check-ups and visits to B.C. Children’s Hospital more times than he cares to remember, but he was able to play road hockey and, thanks to Make-A-Wish Canada, enjoy a trip to Disneyland with his entire family.
He graduated from Vernon secondary school in 2014 and is unsure of what his future plans looks like, but is looking towards a post-secondary education.
“My teachers at VSS were really understanding about everything, my friends are too, they’re really good,” he said. “I don’t really play sports too much now. I’m more tired now. I had a job, but it was just too hard to schedule around dialysis.
“I play games, hang out with my friends, my sister and my two nephews.
“I would like to go back to school, I think that would be the best thing to do, but I’m not sure what I want to do.”
Tyler started feeling unwell in 2013, and was in and out of the hospital. Visits to his nephrologist in Kelowna confirmed that his donated kidney was no longer working.
“Every time I got blood work they would notice my levels getting worse, so they have prepared me for it for the past couple of years. For my blood type there is a two-year waiting list and I’ve been on dialysis two years so I think that speeds things up a bit.”
Meanwhile, he’s on a low-potassium, low-sodium and low-phosphorous diet to make it easier on his kidney as they can’t filter out the excess. That means trips to McDonald’s for a side of fries are out.
“I’m used to it, I take Tums every time I eat because it binds the excess phosphorous, but I’ve grown used to it.”
As a child, Tyler and his family received support from the David Foster Foundation during their many stays in Vancouver when he was at B.C. Children’s Hospital. As an adult, the Kidney Foundation steps in to help.
Once you are on the transplant list, a phone call could come at any time and a patient needs to get to Vancouver and admitted to St. Paul’s Hospital, where the transplant team will be waiting.
“I just want people to know how important organ donation is,” said Webber. “There are people who don’t know about live donor donation or just maybe they think ‘I can’t go down and do that.’ So I really want people to know that anyone can do this.”
According to The Kidney Foundation of Canada, the success rate for a kidney transplant from a living donor is 90 to 95 per cent after one year, and the transplanted kidney lasts 15 to 20 years on average.
For all of the facts about living donation, see www.kidney.ca