The Greatest Gift of All
Needing an organ transplant is never good news. But for Local 306 member Danielle Buchanan, having support at home and work made this life-changing procedure infinitely less taxing
By Rachel Debling
DANIELLE BUCHANAN IS NO STRANGER to the challenges that can come with working in the grocery sector. With seven years under her belt at several different franchises, she has been on the floor, an e-commerce associate picking produce and goods at night for virtual clients, and most recently, in the price change department at Save-On-Foods’ St. James store in Winnipeg.
But in 2017, she was thrown a curveball that would have many questioning whether they could ever participate in such physical work again.
Now 36 years old, Danielle had experienced mysterious health issues ever since she was a child. She was consistently underweight, felt incessantly tired, and was drinking more water than most people she knew. A series of tests pointed to the cause: her kidneys were failing.
“I’m actually quite lucky that I’ve never gone to dialysis,” she says. “When I got my kidney transplant, my original kidneys were at about 17 percent.”
Instead of being placed on the wait-list for a kidney, Danielle’s family quickly underwent tests to see if any of them were a match. Lo and behold, her brother Neil fit the bill.
“It didn’t take a long time compared to what other people go through,” says Danielle. “So in about two, two-and-a-half years we were able to go through with the transplant.”
A police officer in Winnipeg, Neil was luckily healthy enough to tackle the procedure without undergoing many lifestyle adjustments.
“You have to be super healthy to be a donor,” says Danielle. “You cannot be a smoker, or a drinker. My brother was already into a healthy lifestyle, so it wasn’t that difficult.”
TWO YEARS AFTER LEARNING SHE would need to undergo the procedure, Danielle and Neil were at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, getting ready for what would be one of the biggest moments of each of their lives.
Thankfully, the surgery went off without a hitch, and her body received the new kidney without issue.
“I was only in the hospital for five days, and I was able to walk within three days,” she says.
But her return to work was much longer, due to her immunocompromised condition.
“It was four months before I could go back,” says Danielle. “That was two years ago. For a while I was at home because I couldn’t be around anyone. When you’re immunocompromised, you get sick really easily, so that’s dangerous.”
She even had to spend the first two weeks following her hospital stay at her parents’ house because her husband, John, was sick.
THOUGH RECOVERY DOES TAKE TIME, and her work can be draining, Danielle credits her healthy lifestyle, which she has maintained for years, and her position at Save-On-Foods as reasons she was able to bounce back so quickly.
“My job gives me a lot of exercise, and I was already fit,” she says.
The medication she was on postsurgery had several side effects, one being weight gain—a blessing in disguise, as Danielle says she was always considered underweight—and another being uncontrollable surges of energy.
“It makes you manic on high doses,” she says. “You’re very, very alert. I would be up the entire day, and I’d be able to sleep for three hours, but then my brain would be right back up and energized again.”
This by-product, paired with her time off from Save-On-Foods, gave her an opportunity to get caught up on her graphic design side hustle.
“I had a bunch of personal projects that I was holding off on for a long time, and I was able to finish project after project after project because I had all the energy in the world,” she laughs.
When she was finally able to return to her grocery gig, her fellow Local 306 members welcomed her back with open arms.
“My coworkers and I are really close,” says Danielle. “There’s something about the St. James store where everyone gets along. Everyone was happy to see me, and I was on light duties for, I think, four weeks. Everyone was very supportive. It was great.”
AS IT TURNS OUT, TRANSPLANTS are somewhat of a family matter for Danielle, even outside of her close connection with her brother. Two of her cousins have also gone through similar health issues—one has successfully received a kidney, while the other has a rare blood type and is currently looking for a donor—so she always had people to turn to with questions throughout her journey. Her team at Health Sciences Centre was also a steadfast source of support, especially during the pandemic.
Funny enough, Danielle can attest that the stories you hear of people receiving an organ from another person and taking on their traits is true, at least to a degree. She and her brother joke that his organ inspired a change in her tastes.
“I used to not like potatoes or ice cream and now I do,” she laughs. “And I used to hate cilantro but now I like it.
“Taking on characteristics of the donor may be a myth, but it’s interesting to think about.”
The paying-it-forward has continued in the wake of Danielle’s surgery. Her sister, Erin, was so inspired by their brother’s generosity that she also jumped at the chance to make a lifesaving change in another’s life.
“It was a friend from her work who needed a kidney, but Erin was not a match,” says Danielle. “In Canada, they have this ‘multiple matches’ program [also known as a paired donation], where if you are a match to someone across the country, and they match the person you’re wanting to give your kidney to, they swap. My sister actually went to Toronto to give her kidney to someone whose partner ended up giving their kidney to my sister’s friend!”
The tribulations that Danielle has gone through for the sake of her health served as motivation to others, that’s for sure. But one of the biggest payoffs for Danielle is that she feels like a new person.
“I think what stood out to me is the energy, which I didn’t have before,” she says. “Prior to this, my energy was pretty low, and I just lived my life that way. And afterward, it’s like, oh, this is how normal people live.”
For information on how you can join Canada’s kidney donor list, visit kidney.ca.