Vernon transplant recipient lands ‘dream job’ as paramedic

Fiona Walker went on to become a paramedic after receiving a new pancreas, a new kidney and a new lease on life. (Submitted photo)Fiona Walker went on to become a paramedic after receiving a new pancreas, a new kidney and a new lease on life. (Submitted photo)

By Ryan Uytdewilligen, BC Transplant Volunteer

​Born and raised in the Okanagan, Fiona Walker was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes when she was three years old.

“My first memory of myself in a hospital bed was the pediatric ward in the Vernon hospital; cartoons on the wall and a nurse at my bedside, trying to lessen my fear around needles,” Walker recalls.

Twelve years later, her kidneys began to fail; she was only 19 when they failed completely.

“I was coming off a seven-day overtime work rotation and had a bad cold,” Walker explains. “On my first day off, my mom was unable to wake me up in the morning and called 911.”

That was the beginning of what Walker refers to as her “life as a professional patient.”

Diagnosed with Uremia, Walker was put on dialysis, which had to be done on a 10-hour cycle each night and a 45-minute treatment during the day. She was also put on the kidney and pancreas transplant waitlist.

“While I did have a catheter in my belly and was not able to swim, one of my most beloved pastimes, I was able to work and live a fairly normal life,” she explains. Walker counted herself lucky for having a solid group of friends who would carry the boxes of dialysis solutions in and out of wherever they travelled.

Eventually, the infections persisted, and Walker was admitted to the hospital for four months – unable to eat and only gaining nutrition from a tube.

(Submitted photo)

“It was probably the roughest patch of my life. Very isolating. Without the ability to eat, consume fluids and smell the air outside the hospital walls, I grew more and more depressed,” she said.

Walker found comfort in her dialysis nurses, who shared her sense of humour; her co-patients, who were all experiencing variations of the same thing; and by finding distractions like “controversially” cheering for the Calgary Flames.

“Sometimes, when life is the most complicated, it becomes the simplest, and now, I cherish those memories,” Walker says.

A year-and-a-half after being discharged, she got “the call.”

“When I saw BC Transplant flash across the call display, I had trained myself not to expect it to be an organ. However, on that day… it was my turn.”

Walker received a new pancreas, a new kidney, and a new lease on life.

(Submitted photo)

Though she battled with anti-rejection several months later, she stabilized and has tried to live every day since then to the fullest.

It’s been 11 years since her transplant, and Walker says not a day goes by that she isn’t thankful and grateful to her donor and donor family.

“I take care of myself not only for me, for everyone involved with my care but for my donor and those who loved them,” she said. “I want them to know, losing their loved one means something and the choice that person made not only saved my life but impacted so many others.”

The experience she went through has since led her on the career path of being a paramedic.

“I thrive in a fast-paced environment and deal exceptionally well in a moment of turmoil,” Walker assured. “Working as a paramedic will meet all those needs. I’ll have the ability to work within the hospital, but the freedom to leave, and at the core of it all, be the best advocate I can be for a patient as I have been able to do for myself.”

To register as an organ donor, take two minutes at taketwominutes.ca.

READ MORE: Stem cell match found for B.C. infant with rare blood disorder

READ MORE: B.C. town councillor to donate kidney to Qualicum First Nation Chief


Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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