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Richmond KPU farm manager donates kidney to stranger

'It really felt like a gift for me to do it,' said manager of KPU Farm on Garden City Lands.
Andy Smith, manager of the KPU Farm on Garden City Lands, donated one of his kidneys to a stranger last December.

A 33-year-old manager of KPU's farm in Richmond donated his kidney last December — anonymously to a complete stranger.

Andy Smith got the idea to become a donor when he heard his friend pledged to become a living kidney donor. He did some research, got testing, and found out that he was a suitable candidate with low risks posed to his health.

With that in mind, Smith became one of 75 living kidney donors to give someone a gift of life last year. While adults in the province can donate kidneys to someone they know or anonymously, only around 10 people choose to donate a kidney anonymously each year, according to BC Transplant.

Although living organ donors are often related to the recipient, reads BC Transplant's information pamphlet, they don't have to be. The risk of the kidney getting rejected is "equally low" regardless of whether the donor and recipient are related, and around 88 per cent of recipients who receive a kidney from a non-related donor live five years or longer with their transplant. 

Moreover, transplant outcomes are often better with kidneys from living donors compared to deceased donors.

Donating a kidney is major surgery, but the risk of dying from doing so is 0.03 per cent, and the risk of serious complications is around 1 to 2 per cent. Risks include "the possibility of infection, allergic reaction to general anesthesia, pneumonia, and the formation of a blood clot," writes BC Transplant. 

Smith had experienced some initial pain and discomfort, but his recovery was "low impact." And despite not knowing to who he was donating a kidney, he felt "a bond" with the recipient.

“I would just like to say to the recipient that I have felt really connected. It’s not like we know each other, but know that connection exists and that you’re cared for,” he said.

And there's a chance that Smith will be able to say this to the recipient in person. Once a year has passed since the date of the transplant, and if both parties requested direct contact, BC Transplant can make the connection.

As of Aug. 2, there were 448 people on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in B.C., and Smith thinks it's possible to reduce or even eliminate the list.

“If just a few of us, percentage-wise, make the choice to donate a kidney, then there’s no list,” he said. “This is a way to save lives.”