Organs a perfect match
Sisters share impact of kidney transplant and importance of being a donor
HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia woman says she owes her life to her sister from P.E.I.
Almost 30 years after being diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, Cheryl Castellani, 53, of Hammonds Plains, near Halifax, received a healthy kidney from her sister, Heather Blouin, 47, of Grand River, P.E.I.
The operation took place on July 23 at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. Just by coincidence, it happens to be their mother's birthday.
Castellani struggles with her emotions as she describes what her sister's gift means to her.
“I get to thank my donor and show my donor how much this is appreciated,'' an emotional Castellani told SaltWire Network in a phone interview. “What I do with my life will always be in the best interest of what she did for me. It's overwhelming when I stop to think about it. When I sit and think about it I really do lose it.''
Blouin said she didn't hesitate for a moment to be her sister's donor. As a donor, Blouin was a perfect match for her sister.
“It happens only with siblings and only less than 25 per cent of the time with siblings,'' Blouin said. “It was easy. It was an honour for me to have been healthy enough to do this. People make comments like, ‘you're a hero', but, wouldn't anyone do it if they could? It's not even a question.''
At the time of the operation, Castellani's kidney was functioning at about eight per cent. Her creatinine (the waste product that the kidneys filter out) was over 500 (normal is between 60 and 100). Her creatinine is now hovering around 100.
Blouin said their family has a history of kidney disease. Their brother donated a kidney to their father 20 years ago and everything is still fine there. They also have a set of cousins that just underwent a kidney transplant a couple of months ago and all is well there, too.
Castellani said her health has been slipping during the past 10 years. She suffered from fatigue all the time. Her goal was to undergo a transplant before the need for dialysis kicked in.
“I had bone pain because your body chemistry is off. My skin was itching and was in terrible shape and I felt like I had a sunburn on my legs,'' Castellani said.
But, everything changed in an instant when she woke up following the six-hour surgical procedure. Her sister's donated kidney was functioning as it should and all the pain and fatigue she had been suffering from for more than a decade was gone completely.
“It was as if somebody took a magic wand and all of it was gone. Like, it was gone,'' Castellani said emphatically.
“She was dancing circles around me,'' Blouin laughed.
“It was beyond words,'' Castellani said. “I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe how good I felt. It was the best I had felt, probably, in five years.''
Through tears, Castellani said when she was allowed to get out of bed, she walked down to her sister's room, wanting to show Blouin what she had done for her.
“I said, ‘look at me','' Castellani said, struggled with her composure. “My motivation was getting down to see her and showing her, ‘look' . . . it was so overwhelming. I had my appetite back. I had energy that I hadn't had. I woke up rested.''
Castellani said she and her sister were always close but a different kind of bond has now been created.
“Other than my children, I have never received a gift like this,'' Castellani sobbed.
Blouin is quick to add it was a gift for her as well.
"Think about being able to make someone you love well,'' Blouin said. "That's a gift to me.''
Castellani said because it was a perfect match, she won't have to take as many anti-rejection drugs as most transplant patients would. And, that means there will be fewer side-effects to worry about.
The two sisters are hoping that by telling their story, people might give some thought to becoming an organ donor.
Castellani said when she was in the hospital, there was another woman undergoing a kidney transplant, a woman who had been waiting for a kidney for four years. That woman received a healthy kidney from a person who had died and the change in the woman following the surgery was identical to what Castellani experienced.
“If people (considering being an organ donor) could see what I saw no one would hesitate ... to see a loved one living on ... giving someone this kind of quality of life.''
Cheryl Castellani, left, of Hammonds Plains, near Halifax, and Heather Blouin of Grand River, P.E.I., are not only sisters, they really are the perfect match. On July 23, Heather donated a kidney to Cheryl.