At the age of 20, the Saskatchewan native began packing a lifetime of adventures into as few years as possible.
When Louise Lerminiaux was diagnosed with an incurable kidney disease in 1987, she vowed to live life to the fullest. At the age of 20, the Saskatchewan native began packing a lifetime of adventures into as few years as possible.
“Since I didn’t know if I would be fortunate enough to receive a kidney transplant, I lived my life as full as I could by travelling, mountain climbing, running marathons and sailing.”
In the last 23 years, Louise has travelled to various destinations around the world. Her treks have included a hike on Machhu Picchu (an 8,000-foot-high mountain in Peru) and a climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (the highest peak in Africa). The Montmartre, Saskatchewan high school graduate has also competed in five marathons and 10 half-marathons, in addition to competitively sailing for the past three years.
While the 42-year-old’s healthy lifestyle and diet prolonged her life, in 2007 Louise’s kidney function deteriorated to such a degree that she qualified to be on the U. S. kidney cadaver transplant list through the University of California, San Diego.
Louise, who has been working in San Diego as an information technology director for the past seven years, wasn’t sure that a kidney donor could be found.
“In the spring of 2008, I was quite anemic, cold all the time, had little energy and had stopped all of my sporting activities as my kidney function had dropped to 10 per cent,” said Louise, who by now had earned an MBA in digital technologies. “I was told that if I had anyone interested in being a kidney donor for me, now was the time.”
Louise put the word out to family and friends she had met from various countries around the globe.
“I was humbled to have six friends of mine offer to be tested,” said Louise, explaining that one of her closest friends offered immediately to make her kidney available to Louise, should the testing result in a match.
Conna Jones, a Wadena, Saskatchewan native, was a perfect match, with the test results showing that the pair’s blood and tissue work was as close as if Louise and Conna had been siblings.
The Saskatchewan women say they believe their meeting, and subsequent friendship, was no accident.
Louise had shared an office with Conna in Calgary 18 years ago. They stayed in touch over the years, with fate bringing them together in Vancouver and then again when a series of events brought them within 100 miles of each other in southern California.
“She told me this was the reason why she had been following me around all these years, and if there was something she could do so I wouldn’t have to go on dialysis, she would do it,” said Louise. “Some days it is very overwhelming to acknowledge her selfless act and yet when she sees how much better I feel and how I have been able to get a normal life back, I know it is just as rewarding to her. And for me, there will never be the
proper words to say ‘thank you.’”
The transplant process was completed on Nov. 5, 2008 and was a long one. The surgery resulted in two days of hospitalization, followed by a month of restricted lifting, but Conna is now completely healthy.
As for Louise, after the transplant she was placed on three immunosuppressants and several other medications, taking up to 33 pills a day.
“By my fifth month, I was down to the minimum dosages on my three anti-rejection meds only, for a total of 12 pills a day,” said Louise. “This is virtually unheard of, as most transplant recipients need to continue to take insulin, high blood pressure medication and other meds.”
Today Louise is feeling great and is eternally grateful for the gift her best friend has given her.
“The medical teams have repeatedly told Conna and I that we are an exceptional case because they are not used to dealing with ‘healthy’ patients and donors. They attribute both of our quick recoveries to our healthy lifestyles.”
Louise and Conna are now on a joint mission to spread the word about the benefits of organ donation.
“We hope to inspire others to sign their organ donor card, give blood, start a fitness regime — basically, to not take their health or the health of others for granted. And if there is a way one can help another fellow human being, just do it.”
For more information on organ donation visit, www.organdonations.ca.
Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Saskatchewan