Diabetes Kidney & Renal Transplant

Providence research leader becomes living kidney donor

Aggie’s daughter, Annie followed in her mom’s footsteps by becoming a nurse.

Aggie Black is no stranger to the world of research. As a leader in practice-based research programming at Providence Health Care, Black knows the value of investing in organ donation and transplant science to improve patient care.

Recently, Black, who is the Director of Health Services & Clinical Research and Knowledge Translation at Providence, embarked on a deeply personal journey into the world of transplantation by becoming an anonymous living kidney donor. To mark Living Donation Week 2023, please read about what led her to become a living donor and why more people should consider this act of altruism.

This interview was conducted by the Transplant Research Foundation of BC just prior to Black’s surgery. They are happy to report that she successfully donated her kidney, giving another person a renewed lease on life.

Q: Tell us about your living donation journey and connection to transplant.

A: My friend Kathleen died many years ago from complications of diabetes, but her life had been extended by decades due to living kidney donation, and I was intrigued by the idea that one person could make that sort of gift to another. More recently, my friend Ted died of ALS during the pandemic, and was bitterly disappointed to learn that upon his death, he would not be able to donate his organs, as transplants had temporarily ceased due to COVID-19. I shared his sadness that he couldn’t have that one positive outcome after his terrible battle with a cruel disease. My friend Freddy also inspired me when I heard about his kidney donation to help a friend.

I have worked closely with Transplant Research Foundation BC (TRF) in my professional life and have been so inspired by the people I’ve met there, whose lives have been changed by receiving transplants, and who continue to give back by working and volunteering to support trans- plant research. TRF funded a research project that two of the social workers in my hospital led, exploring outcomes from a discussion group to help those in renal failure talk to family and friends to share their stories in hopes of inspiring living donation. Their project was fascinating to me. Finally, a colleague shared her story on social media of losing renal function and needing a kidney transplant. I kept thinking, “Could I do that? Am I still young enough and healthy enough to donate a kidney?”

Q: Why were you motivated to pursue this act of altruism?

A: My Mom and Dad raised us with the notion of always being grateful for the gifts life has given us. They used to say, “to those whom much is given, much will be asked” and I have had an exceptionally healthy and love-filled life. My husband Tim and my kids, Annie and Ben, are very supportive of my decision to be a donor. My work colleagues have also rallied behind me and are covering my portfolio while I am off work. Friends and neighbors have offered to visit and bring food during my recovery time.

Q: What do you wish more people knew about the process of being a living donor?

A: I wish more people could see that living organ donation is a real possibility for many of us, regardless of our age or where we live. Living donation is an incredible gift that will change the quality of another person’s life.

BC offers great support to make living donation possible for people who might otherwise have trouble taking time off work, or who live in rural parts of the province. I have learned that up to 200 people die each year in Canada waiting for a kidney transplant, and that receiving a living organ donation lasts even longer than a transplant from a deceased donor.

Q: Looking ahead, what do you envision or hope for regarding the future of transplant medicine and science? What role do you see research having in achieving these goals?

A: “Research” is part of my job description, and I’m a huge champion for research everywhere! As a registered nurse and health care leader, I think research is incredibly important for ongoing health care improvements. Research related to transplant can take the form of small, practice-based projects like the one I described above, or the one that nurses in the St. Paul’s Hospital Transplant Program are currently leading on transplant education, or it can be much bigger and involve clinical trials to promote post-transplant health. Research should be supported throughout the health care system and will benefit all of us.

Q: Anything else you would like us to know?

A: I saw an ad in the New York Times a few weeks ago, when I was already deeply invested in my journey to be a living kidney donor, that showed a photo of a young boy, clearly on dialysis, with the caption “Could you be my living kidney donor?” and it touched me deeply. It reminded me of the faces and families behind everyone on the waitlist for a kidney transplant.

As a climate change activist, I would also note that donating a kidney means someone will be able to stop dialysis, which not only improves their quality of life, but also reduces the carbon footprint of the healthcare system.

A version of this story originally ran on the Transplant Research Foundation of BC website. Read it here.

If you would like more information about the living kidney donation program visit: http://www.transplant.bc.ca/organ-donation/living-kidney-donation