This was supposed to be the time Joan Froats and her husband, Gary, would be returning north from wintering at their snowbird home in Palm Springs.
The Spallumcheen couple had purchased a mobile home a few years ago with the plan that they’d spend the often harsh Canadian winters down south, like so many Canuck snowbirds.
They got to use the home for one month.
In 2014, feeling extremely tired and falling asleep all the time, the then-59-year-old Froats was diagnosed with Granulomatosis with Polyangitis (GPA for short), a rare overactive immune system disorder that restricts blood flow to internal organs, leading to irreversible damage.
GPA, said Froats, becomes fatal, commonly from kidney failure.
“Upon diagnosis, I learned the function of both my kidneys was at eight per cent, which is considered End Stage Renal Disease,” said Froats in the dining room of her Spallumcheen home with Gary at her side.
She underwent chemotherapy and plasma exchange treatments, followed a rigid, restricted diet and was prescribed a plethora of medications.
The GPA went into remission but Froats’ overtaxed kidneys could not clean her blood enough for an indefinite period of time. In October 2017, she was put on home dialysis, a temporary life-saving cleaning process but not as efficient for all the functions performed by her kidneys.
Froats had to be connected to the machine every night for 10 hours. Her kidney function was, and remains, between two and three per cent.
“Kidney failure causes nausea, a loss of energy, and a lot of physical and mental fatigue,” said Froats, now 65, a former accountant with an Armstrong insurance company. “Many days are difficult to get the basics of my prior life done, and I cannot enjoy activities with family and friends as I once did.”
What Froats needs is a kidney transplant.
And she thought she had one lined up from her sister, who was identified as a suitable donor, giving Froats hope of regaining her previous life.
Froats went through testing in Vancouver in April 2017, but the transplant team said her body had not yet regained sufficient strength to undergo the surgery, so plans were put on hold.
More than two years later, in October 2019, Froats was declared ready. So was her sister, who was instructed to retest as her results were more than a year old.
New results showed Froats’ sister was no longer able to give her the kidney.
“We were devastated,” Froats said. “So today, I am actively resuming my search for a live kidney donor.”
Even if a donor is found, Froats’ transplant would be deferred due to COVID-19 as all doctor appointments have been cancelled.
The Froatses understand kidney donation is not right for everyone. For some, said Joan, the idea of a kidney donation is a natural fit and they are comfortable with the idea.
“Kidney donors are able to live normal and healthy lives with just one kidney,” said Froats, who had one of her kidneys removed in December 2019, and who now visits the Vernon Renal Clinic once a week for dialysis to go along with her nightly routine. “Donors are carefully, medically screened to make sure it’s safe for them to donate.”
The transplant team will consider the donor’s health and well-being a priority. Donors do not have to be a relative to step forward or even have the same blood type.
If she’s able, Joan and Gary will again participate in the 2020 Kidney Walk in Vernon on June 7 (if it goes ahead and is not cancelled due to COVID-19).
“Gary has helped me through a lot,” smiled Joan. “He’s been so positive.”
If you’re interested in exploring kidney donation and helping Froats – it’s all confidential and exploring the option does not mean committing to it – check out www.transplant.bc.ca, or contact Renee, donor coordinator at Vancouver General Hospital Pre-Transplant Clinic at 1-604-875-5182 for more information.