We have the gift of life within us this Christmas
Christmas for many Metis and First Nations people is a time of stress and sadness. Over the past year we have said farewell to friends and relatives who have left us because of chronic diseases like cancer or diabetes. For others, the future is hazy and some feel that this may be another loved one’s last Christmas.We don’t have to give up. We need to educate ourselves about the reasons these chronic diseases exist and if we can’t prevent them how we can survive through treatment and organ transplants.For three years now, Monica Goulet has been waiting for a kidney transplant. Now she has a potential match and the operation could take place in several months.It has been a long, hard road for Monica. She was 26 when she found out that she only had one functioning kidney. She grew up in northern Saskatchewan and the local health-care staff never realized that she was born with a genetic defect that made one kidney atrophy and placed additional stress on the other one.While Monica’s case is unique, her plight is not. The diabetes epidemic that is sweeping across Indian country has devastated the health of Indigenous people. Kidney failure is one of the outcomes faced by long-term diabetics and dialysis is the relentless result.When the kidney function falls to less than 10 per cent, dialysis is the inevitable result. Dialysis can be time consuming — the average time can be five hours, and if you couple that with a two-hour drive from a reserve, two or three times a week, there is little time left in someone’s life for anything else. The only “cure” is a kidney transplant.When it comes to organ transplants, the blood type must match. An interesting asideWe need to return to our traditional diet, which was high in protein and low in starches.here is that a majority of Indigenous people from both North and South America have type O blood. Type O is considered the universal donor, but people with type O can only accept an organ from a type O donor.The fact that Indigenous peoples of the Americas have a preponderance of type O blood is an indication of how closely we must be related; we must have come from a single population at one time.For individuals with leukemia and other kinds of cancers, a bone-marrow transplant may be the only way of improving the patient’s chances of survival. A bone-marrow transplant will inject healthy stem cells into the afflicted person and reverse cancers such as leukemia.Bone marrow transplants are even more difficult and genetically related to heredity. The best match is a sibling or a close relative. To get a close match suitable for a bone marrow donation, Indigenous people should have a donor who is also Indigenous.In Canada there is a desperate need for Aboriginal bone marrow donors. If you are between the ages of 17 and 59 and are in good health, you should qualify. If you want to register, go to the Canadian Blood Services website and look for the information package and registration form.The need for organ donations is greatest in the Indigenous community. Diabetes turning up in people 20-30 years old is creating more pressure for kidney or heart transplants in the future.But the action that is required is in our education system. Children must be taught about healthy living, including proper diet and regular exercise. We need to return to our traditional diet, which was high in protein and low in starches such as potatoes and bannock.Reserve stores and gas stations must offer healthy alternatives instead of sugar drinks and junk food. They should take the slurpee machines and throw them out.So, let’s not give up. This Christmas, consider giving the gift of life. To begin, you can put the donor sticker on your health card. If you feel that you qualify, register as a stem cell donor with Canadian Blood Services.The gift of life means that some family will continue to have merry Christmases and happy new years. I know Monica and her family will be thankful.
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