Kidney disease patients facing life or death during COVID-19

'Every day could be my last'

Ed Warkentin and his family have been hoping for years that a kidney donor might come along to save his life, but COVID-19 is making their dream even further from reality. 

Warkentin's kidneys are failing to the point that he needs dialysis three times a week at the Penticton Regional Hospital, which requires a drive north from his home in Oliver. 

"Every day could be my last," he told Castanet Monday.

As a dialysis patient, COVID-19 could be particularly dangerous, since immunocompromised people are at high risk of complications. But he has no choice but to go for his appointments, an experience which has changed greatly in recent weeks.

"Going into the hospital has been strange now,"  Warkentin said. "A wellness check right at the door, then I can go upstairs. And of course all the nurses are gowned and masked, and I'm not allowed to touch any of the machines."

Warkentin can handle the changes to his dialysis routine. But what is especially upsetting about the pandemic is the loss of that hope for a new kidney, at least in the near future. 

"I'd have to go down to Vancouver, and Vancouver has a higher rate of COVID-19 cases," he said. "They've pretty much postponed any kidney surgeries until this pandemic is done, which adds stress."

He is watching the province's plans to re-open with worry. 

"We don't know when the next wave is gonna hit us," Warkinton said. "If you have to go out then go out, but within reason. This isn't finished yet." 

On the other side of the kidney disease spectrum is Annick Lim, who has had her donated kidney for over 20 years. 

LIm is healthy but still at risk of complications from any virus she picks up, and as such has been self-quarantining for 55 days, explaining the virus could be "absolutely deadly" for someone with her compromised immune system. 

She said her doctor told her if she was feeling fine, the best thing to do would be to skip her monthly blood work checkup rather than venturing into the public to the clinic.

"I've been going for blood work every single month for 20 years, so it was very strange to not go for my April blood work," Lim said.

She was asked to come back to work this week at her retail job, which was a definite "No."

"It's been OK for me, but I know other people are struggling ... it will get better," Lim said. "I'm keeping myself safe ... honestly I don't know when I will be returning to work, or if I will be returning to work at all."

Both Lim and Warkentin hope people will keep them and others like them in mind when they choose whether or not to start socializing again and going out in public. 

Warkentin said the clock is ticking on his ability to accept a donor kidney, and the sooner the pandemic is over, the better. 

"Even if [a donor] did step up today, it's going to be months before the testing can be done ... and it's already a long process to begin with."

For more information on organ donation both living and post-mortem, or to donate to the Kidney Foundation which operates Warm the Sole and many other outreach and research programs, click here

To find out if you can donate a kidney specifically to Ed Warkentin, call the Vancouver General Hospital Pre-Transplant Clinic toll-free at 1-855-875-5182.

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