Kidney & Renal Transplant

How a living kidney donor gave a young girl her life back

Leah and Ferris

Green Shirt Day takes place each year on April 7. It’s a day to raise awareness of organ donation and register organ donors across Canada. April is also Organ Donation Awareness Month across Canada. The following article, adapted from BC Transplant, highlights a remarkable kidney donation story made possible by the living donor program at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Leah Scott has always been a huge advocate for deceased organ donation, but becoming a living kidney donor never crossed her mind until she read about three-year old Ferris Backmeyer on social media.

Once she learned that Ferris needed a kidney transplant, Leah knew in her heart that she was meant to donate a kidney to save Ferris. She calls it a story of “divine intervention.” 

The beginning of the journey to donation  

Leah met Ferris’ mother Lindsay Backmeyer at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops where they both worked. Leah was a nurse in the emergency department and Lindsay was a respiratory therapist. The two would often cross paths in the busy hospital halls. They connected over conversations about motherhood and Leah cherished their quick but meaningful chats during breaks. They kept in touch as Facebook friends through the years, and that’s where Leah eventually learned about Ferris’ complicated health battle, which had started from a very young age. 

In December of 2020, Leah recalls seeing a Facebook update from Lindsay, pleading with friends and family to help find a living kidney donor for her daughter Ferris. 

As a mother of three young children, Leah put herself in Lindsay’s shoes.

“Ferris is someone’s child – everyone waiting for an organ is someone’s daughter, son, mother or father. Transplant gives hope to all of these people who want to grow older, see their kids graduate, and maybe even meet their grandchildren one day.” 

A strong calling to help 

It was that moment that Leah just knew. She knew that she was meant to do everything in her power to help someone else.

“I had a feeling I was supposed to do this big thing for this little girl. After my husband gave me a quick ‘Ok!’ to move forward, I went ahead with no hesitation,” shares Leah.

Without telling Lindsay, she decided to contact the living donor program at St. Paul’s Hospital and began the long road of tests and check-ups.

Leah and her husband, post-surgery.

Leah ended up being a good match for Ferris, but not an exact match. She was then told that she could enter the Canada-wide Kidney Paired Donation program. The program gives donors who are not a match to their family member or friend another way to help that person receive a kidney transplant. Leah would donate her kidney to someone who is a better match, and in exchange, Ferris would receive a kidney from another donor who is part of the exchange.

The benefit of a national program is that it includes pairs from all over Canada. This increases the chance of patients finding their match. Without the Kidney Paired Donation program, a match from another province would never be found.

Leah, again, jumped at the opportunity to say yes, with hopes that now she could be a part of something with even greater impact. 

“I love sharing this story because, for me, there is very little downside, maybe just a bit of discomfort. It’s incredible to be able to give someone their life back.” 

The waiting game

The next few years felt drawn out and tedious for Leah as she waited for the good news of a match for Ferris. She was ready to donate, but she knew the stars would have to align in many other intricate ways to make this happen.

On Ferris’ side, her health journey went through a myriad of ups and downs, including her first kidney transplant that subsequently failed. At this point, Ferris became a highly sensitized patient with antibodies that made it even more difficult to find a successful match.

“My heart broke for Ferris and her family as they navigated this extremely difficult time,” says Leah. “But they never gave up hope, and neither did I.”

In early 2023, they got the green light for the kidney chain and on June 26, Leah donated one of her kidneys in the exchange program. A few days later, Ferris woke up from her kidney transplant and they both began their roads to recovery.  

Looking forward and inspiring others

Leah says the surgery went exactly how she envisioned, because she had two years to think about it and plan while waiting. After a quick summer of recovery, she was back to her old self, just in time to take her kids to school in September. 

Since her donation, Leah has pursued many of her personal dreams and goals as an author, a life coach and natural health and wellness advocate.   

“Nothing stops me from living a full normal healthy life now – I didn’t have to change my life at all to donate a kidney. Half of the time, I even forget that I physically gave someone a kidney because I feel great. If I had more kidneys, I would do it again and again.”

Leah fondly recalls a sweet moment she shared with her then eight-year old son. Her kidney donation to Ferris made the local news and he turned to her and said, “You saved two lives this week, mom! You’re a hero!”

Leah and her family.

Leah was so proud he pieced together the fact that she donated anonymously to someone else, in order for Ferris to receive her life-saving kidney. She and her husband strive to teach their children to live big, bold generous lives and to always help others.

“If you are a healthy adult and feel any sort of curiosity towards it, I encourage you to explore. There are so many people in need of a transplant and it is such a beautiful experience. You’re not just giving an organ – it was a beautiful gift to me, too. You get so much back from being part of something so big and important.”

Leah beams as she shares that Ferris recently celebrated her seventh birthday and is doing well. She hopes that by continuing to share their story, others will be inspired to learn more about living organ donation.