Brian Spence will, for the rest of his life, carry part of Jeremy Meller with him. And Spence is eternally grateful for that.
This is the story of two Vernon; one fighting for his life battling kidney disease; the other a willing volunteer kidney donor.
The pair first met in Barriere, 66 kilometres north of Kamloops on the Yellowhead Highway , where Spence and his wife, Julieanne, served for many years as Christian missionaries to rural B.C. communities here in BC. They started and directed the Faith Mission Camp Centre in Falkland. As the Spences pursued the ministry, they would travel to Barriere and spend a week living in their tent trailer in the church parking lot, conducting week-long Vacation Bible School with their team.
Meller and his siblings would attend each year.
“He would have been around 12 when we first met him,” said Spence. “Little did I know that this quiet, unassuming young man, who is a talented pianist, would literally give me the gift of life, by donating his kidney to me some 14 years later.”
Spence was diagnosed as a young child in Northern Ireland at Belfast City Hospital with juvenile kidney issues. This was constantly monitored by physicians through to adulthood.
In the summer of 2015, and now in the North Okanagan, Spence was on his way to pick up his wife from work when he noticed an ammonia taste in his mouth. He checked his symptoms online and was devastated to learn what he was feeling may be an indication of renal failure.
Several weeks passed when, on a sunny Okanagan Saturday afternoon, Spence felt extremely fatigued and ill.
“I felt like I was literally dying,” said Spence. Julieanne, who has a nursing background, rushed to Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s emergency department where the attending physician confirmed Spence’s worst fears. His kidney function had dropped to eight per cent.
Spence was rushed to Kelowna General Hospital for more tests and was told he needed surgery to prepare for peritoneal dialysis, which he remained on for two years, becoming “a prisoner to my home and my cycler machine.”
For the first time in his adult life, Spence was unable to work and provide for his family. Julieanne became the main bread-winner, working two jobs to keep her family afloat.
In June 2017, the couple went to an appointment at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and met with a nephrologist, Dr. gill, who informed Spence he was recommending him for kidney transplant. Spence was given a sample letter to send to family and friends and, in the age of social media, he used Facebook to appeal to prospective donors.
To his amazement, he said, four of his friends began the screening process.
“I must emphasize at this point, that this process is completely voluntary and strictly confidential,” said Spence.
The initial screening determined that Meller was a potential match. The final stage in the screening process is a kidney cross match test.
“I was told by St. Paul’s transplant team that I had a match, but was completely unaware that it was Jeremy,” said Spence. “I was instructed to attend VJH for the cross match test at a certain time on a certain day. As I waited for the blood work, in walked Jeremy. We sat together and chatted. I proceeded to tell him why I was there.
“To my amazement he seemed to know a lot about the kidney cross match test. I didn’t want to pry, thinking, ‘Perhaps Jeremy has kidney issues himself and is very private about it?’ I wanted to respect his privacy and didn’t ask any questions regarding his knowledge of the test that I was about to have. When I arrived home that morning, I informed my wife. My wife and Jeremy’s wife, Genna, are good friends. My wife did something she probably shouldn’t have done; she sent Genna a text asking if Jeremy was the one. To our shock and amazement she quickly replied, “Yes he is- isn’t he amazing!”
Jeremy and Genna talked at length about this huge decision to donate a kidney.
“Genna was 100 per cent supportive of her husband’s decision to save my life,”said Spence. “Jeremy also had the support and cooperation of his employer, who made accommodations for the five weeks he would be off work after the surgery.
“He also benefited from the resources made available by the Kidney Foundation, which covered the cost of travelling and staying near the hospital for a few days post- transplant.”
After some further testing for Meller, the Spences eventually were informed that he was indeed a ‘perfect match’ and the date of surgery was set for April 23,18 at St.Paul’s Hospital.
“We are pleased to share that we have just celebrated our one year post-transplant anniversary,” said Spence. “We are thankful to our God who made all of this possible. Both Jeremy and I are doing well. I’m enjoying life, feeling great and am back to work. I want to record my immense gratitude to Jeremy, a true hero, and one who selflessly, and sacrificially, gave to me the gift of life.”
A living donor isn’t always possible, but it is for sure the very best option.
Deceased donors are equally important, and Spence, Meller and other transplant recipients/donors encourage you to consider this option and register. According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada there are an estimated 3.5 million Canadians currently living with kidney disease.
If you are interested in considering kidney donation go to the Canadian Kidney Foundation of Canada website at kidney.ca or call 1-800-567-8112 for more information.
The North Okanagan chapter of the Kidney Association of B.C. and Yukon hosts its annual Kidney Walk Sunday, June 2, at Polson Park. Walk registration and donations collected start at 9 a.m, as does the event’s silent auction.
The program, which starts at 9:30 a.m., will include a kidney transplant recipient and donor testimonial from Jacqueline Molinari (recipient) and Karen Coon (donor). The walk, led by RCMP in red serge and the Kalamalka Highlanders Pipe Band, starts at 10 a.m.