Victoria veteran turns to social media in hopes to receive kidney transplant and share his story

(Eric James)

Eric James is a 15-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who was placed on furlough due to persistent kidney failure.

His battle with kidney failure has prompted him to take to social media to get his request for a donor out into the world.

In 2017, James was diagnosed with kidney failure, which in his case is a genetic disorder in his family for three generations, stretching back to his great-great-grandfather.

After James found out his kidneys were failing, he was able to track the decline for about a year through regular blood tests and live his life fairly regularly. However, due to his kidney failure, it eventually got to the point where he had to be taken on dialysis, which he is now doing in his fifth year of life.

“At first it was the standard of three runs a week, so three times a week, so every other day, except for ‘kidney weekend’ where you have two days off,” James told Victoria Buzz.

Each ‘run’ of kidney dialysis lasts around four hours and must be performed at the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

“I was very fortunate because I was trying to work full time and go to school and live my life that we have a nightly program here in BC at the Royal Jubilee Hospital,” James said. “This way I can do my runs in the evening from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.”

He sleeps during his eight-hour runs in the hospital, which are overall better for his body than the four-hour runs dialysis patients do throughout the day.

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“It allows me to at least have my day,” James explained. “Most people and most kidney units will not have this program.”

BC Renal and Island Health provide the nightly program because they have to. Both elderly and indigenous populations are over-represented in Victoria and Vancouver Island, two groups predisposed to kidney failure and kidney disease.

At 35, James is the youngest in his kidney ward. He says there are other young people there too, but most are seniors who suffer from kidney problems, often linked to diabetes and heart disease.

“Interestingly, kidney failure affects one in five Canadians,” James told Victoria Buzz. “Most people with kidney failure will remain unaware throughout their lives that they actually have some form of kidney failure.”

The unfortunate fact that James shared is that there are usually two reasons for someone not coming into the kidney ward.

“You walk into the ward and the guy who usually sits next to you is gone and the nurse says, ‘Joe has a transplant,'” James explained. “Unfortunately, one often hears ‘Joe passed away’.”

“It was a stark reality when I was just starting dialysis. I applied for the night program and was on a waiting list,” James said. “The nurse told me that the waiting list is shifting because people are dying here.”

Transplants only last so long for those lucky enough to receive one. An average kidney transplant from a living donor is viable for about 20 years. For a kidney that comes from a deceased donor, the viability is much lower.

James has been on a transplant waiting list for five years. He is unlucky to have a rare blood type – B+.

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“If you’re a donor and you die in a state where your organs can still be donated, you start at the top of the list and work your way down,” James said.

“It’s about finding the most suitable match. So you could be 100 on the list, but if you match based on blood type and other detailed matches around the immune system, you could get a kidney.

He explained that it’s not where you’re on the list that matters, but the feasibility of the game. James said the wait time on that list to get a kidney from a cadaver donor is about five to seven years.

Mostly people who have kidney failure and get a transplant from someone they know.

“A person is more likely to donate than live if they can put a face and a name to a story,” James said.

This is partly why he made a post on Facebook reaching out to him and sharing a little of his story to find a kidney donor and live his life a little more normally for at least 20 years.

(Eric James/Facebook)

“What actually led to my post is that the last two weeks have been really tough for me,” James told Victoria Buzz. “As a result of complications from the dialysis machine, I began to develop congestive heart failure.”

“In the first five years on the bike I was very fit and healthy. But over time, time caught up with me.”

“We have two kidneys and you only need one,” James said. “Any donors who have donated will tell you that after they donate, they live a perfectly normal life.”

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If you want to know more about donating a kidney, you can find information at St. Paul’s Hospital which is located in Vancouver and handles most of the transplants.

BC has one too Transplant information page as a resource that contains both information and videos dispelling myths about different types of organ transplants.

“I really need something to help me out here so I don’t continue down this path,” James said.