When Tenille Haberstock was considering what to give her brother for his 20th birthday, she didn’t head to the mall or go online to find the perfect present.
Instead, the Vernon mom of two decided to give Tyler Watson what he needed most: a kidney.
“When I was younger, no one even mentioned that I might have to donate a kidney one day, but in February I went with Tyler to his regular checkup in Vancouver and flew home,” said Haberstock, 22. “And when we got to Kelowna I started to think about it, but I didn’t say anything to anyone.”
That weekend, she got busy on Google, looking up everything she needed to know about donating a kidney. She spoke to her husband, Tyler Haberstock, about it, called St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and got the ball rolling.
Watson’s health started deteriorating before he was born when a routine ultrasound found that he had a blockage that prevented him from passing urine. His mom, Renee Webber, made twice-weekly trips to Vancouver, where doctors would drain his bladder through her stomach.
“We did this for 18 weeks as doctors were hoping this would save his life,” she said. “It did but left him with very little kidney function. Before he was one year old he went on peritoneal dialysis, and was hooked up every night to this machine but he was getting sicker.”
Tyler had his first kidney transplant at the age of two, when he received the life-saving organ from his dad, Corey Watson.
The new kidney worked well for the first 16 years. Two years ago, its function began to decrease and Tyler began undergoing hemo dialysis three times a week, at the Vernon Community Dialysis Unit. Dialysis does the work of healthy kidneys by removing excess water and waste to clean the blood.
That’s also when Tyler went on the waiting list for a new kidney. According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, the average wait time for a kidney from a deceased donor 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 do the work of two.
Meanwhile, Tenille was undergoing tests, going back and forth to Vancouver, keeping the whole thing a secret from her brother for four months.
“I had already told my mom, and I was constantly doing tests, but I never thought of changing my mind — once I thought of it, why wouldn’t I do this?”
When she found out she was a perfect match for her brother, she came up with a plan to surprise him. The entire family had gathered for Tyler’s 20th birthday celebration in July when Tenille presented her brother with a gift: a T-shirt she had made up emblazoned with the words, “I can’t keep calm; my sister is giving me a kidney.”
“I gave him the shirt, and he didn’t really know what was going on,” she said. “He doesn’t show emotion, but I knew how he felt, even if he doesn’t show it.
“Since then, we’ve talked about it so many times and he’s amazed that I’m doing this. He tells me that he’s still in shock.”
Tyler looks after his sister’s two children every Tuesday so she and her husband can have a date night. He said she can expect that to continue as often as she needs.
“I’m so excited and thankful and my sister has a sitter for life,” said Tyler, whose two nephews, Andrew, four, and Noah, two, look forward to their uncle returning to good health.
Tyler and Tenille’s mom, Renee Webber, couldn’t be prouder of her kids.
“She went behind our backs and Tyler found out at the party. He was trying so hard to keep cool, but there were 50 people looking at him. After everyone stopped staring, he gave Tenille a big hug. I never could have imagined this would happen, and this is why I never asked her, because she’s had her own stuff to deal with — she is amazing.
“She said that he was her best friend and did not have any doubt in her mind that she wanted to do this for him.”
Born with cone dystrophy, Tenille is legally blind, but is otherwise perfectly healthy. She works in the daycare at Fitness West and looks after children in her home.
“Despite these obstacles Tenille works and is an amazing mother to her little boys. She has always put the needs of others before herself and loves her family dearly,” said Renee.
After the surgery, Tenille will return to her regular life, although there are one or two limitations being placed on her.
“They’ve told me I can’t join the military but since I’m legally blind I don’t think that’s an option,” she said.
The surgery is scheduled for Nov. 2 and Tenille has been told she and her brother are an identical genetic match: sharing two biological parents gives them a better chance at a perfect match and less chance of Tyler’s body rejecting the kidney.
“They have high hopes for Tyler,” said Tenille. “He would like to be able to go to school, get a car and do everything any other 20-year-old wants to do.”
Once the transplant team at St. Paul’s has completed the surgery on the siblings, Tenille will take about six to eight weeks to recover, with Tyler taking anywhere from eight to 12 weeks, so the family will celebrate Christmas at the same time Tyler celebrates his new kidney.
“In the first three months, that’s where a lot of rejection happens,” said Renee. “Tenille will stay there for a couple of weeks so I can look after her. And her husband will take a couple of weeks off to take care of the boys. Her husband Tyler is super supportive — she picked well.”
Renee said her son is more than ready for his surgery. Side effects of the dialysis include extreme fatigue, lethargy, his hair is falling out, and the fistula that was formed to allow for dialysis is not only itchy, it is hard on his heart.
“He is very nervous and very excited and Tenille has told him, ‘if you don’t take care of this kidney, I will kill you,’” said Renee, who is also mom to Landen, 10. “He just has such hope, he wants to go to college, thinking something in the health field, whether a lab tech or in the dialysis lab. I haven’t seen Tyler this happy in years, just the hopefulness of it. It has been a very long road for him but throughout everything he has been through he is amazingly kind-hearted, funny and helpful. He has kept a positive outlook despite any obstacles he has faced.”
Meanwhile, with Renee and Tenille both taking time off from their jobs, a Go Fund Me page has been set up.
“What we are hoping for is to raise money to help with our long stay in Vancouver and the lost wages that will greatly affect our families. We would like to be able to only focus on the health and healing process and not the worry about being able to afford to live. Unfortunately the bills do not ever stop coming no matter what anyone is faced with. This is a chance for Tyler to have a future, with his sister Tenille willing to make that possible.”
To make a donation, please go to gofundme.com and type in New Kidney For Tyler, which will take you directly to the family’s fundraising page.