The Gift of Life Just in Time For Christmas

Posted On Monday November 30, 2020
masked tartan twins John and Wade - Copy
John and Wade

Constable Wade Neal has been living with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) for decades and has been on a very long list awaiting his chance for a kidney transplant. On November 19th, 2020, after years of waiting, Wade finally became the recipient of a living donor kidney and is now at home recovering from the surgery. This was all made possible because his best friend, Sergeant John Henry, donated one of his own kidneys on Wade’s behalf.  

Wade's battle with PKD started when he was 23 years old and progressively worsened over the years. By 2018, the disease's effects on his kidneys became so severe that he needed to begin dialysis treatment at Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville. Wade also had to go on long term disability from his position in the Peel Regional Police Major Collision Bureau. This effected him very deeply because he genuinely loved his work. The most challenging part of his condition was that he would never regain use of his kidney and would require a kidney transplant…to save his life. 

The waiting list for a donor kidney is unbelievably long. It takes more than five years to even get close to the top of the list. Once there, getting a matching donor is another huge obstacle. Dialysis is a life-saving treatment, but really takes a toll on your body. Many on the list need to be on dialysis for nearly a decade before receiving a kidney. This constant strain on the heart often takes patients out of the running. Other health concerns will disqualify them from transplants, such as heart issues and cancer. If Wade was going to get a kidney, he needed to improve his chances by getting closer to the top of that list.

Sergeant John Henry, Wade's best friend of 34 years, and a Patrol Sergeant at 22 Division in Peel decided to speed up that process by giving Wade one of his own kidneys. This was the way John could help his best friend have a long and happy life. There was one problem, though, John's kidney was not a suitable match for Wade. Disappointed, John and Wade considered other options. This was when they learned about the Kidney Paired Donation Program

The program is run by Canadian Blood Services. This program gives donors a chance to ensure the person they care about receives the kidney they need, even when they are not a direct match. The donor is matched with a suitable candidate, and in return, another donor is matched with their loved one. Often referred to as a "kidney tree." Thus, John donated a kidney to an unknown recipient, and in exchange, Wade received a kidney from another anonymous donor. This process shortened Wade’s wait by at the very least five years and two lives were saved in the process. We know that all four people involved completed their surgeries and began their individual roads to recovery. Due to the anonymous program restricting members from knowing about each other's lives, we cannot learn more.  

"We didn't even like each other when we first met ha, ha, ha. [Wade] worked nights, I worked afternoons, and we'd argue about little things. Then one day, something happened that made us both laugh and discovered that we had a very similar sense of humour.  We've been friends ever since. He is the reason I became a police officer. Now, 34 years later, I'm giving a kidney." said Sergeant John Henry.

While she was getting ready to pick Wade up from the hospital on November 24th, 2020, Sharon, Wade's wife, gave an update. There was infectious electricity felt through the phone. She was primed with excitement as she let the family dog back into the house. She spoke with highly motivated confidence, ready to bring the love of her life back home. 

"I'm very emotional. It's a crazy time for us. The surgery was textbook, and the kidney has already started to help [Wade] so much. [Wade] is starting to look like himself again." 

A month ago, John called the Neal family, nervous to tell the Neal’s that Wade has a donor. Next, through the power of raw adrenaline and a mixture of joy and trepidation, both families got organized. And then the waiting began. Because of COVID-19, they all had to stay healthy and isolate, John's family too, or the surgery might not have been able to happen. This past month has been the slowest month ever for both the Neal's and the Henry's. According to Sharon, Wade has been baking non-stop. 

"He has been keeping us all well fed with treats. He loves to bring in all kinds of delicious goodies to the Headwaters dialysis nurses. The whole dialysis team at Headwaters have been phenomenal with him over the past few years. They were so excited about the upcoming surgery and gave him a party on his last day, showered him with gifts and cheered him on through the whole process. We've been taken aback by how wonderful they have all been." Sharon shared.

The decision to be a living organ donor to save the life of a family member, a friend or a stranger is truly a miracle. It is a decision that comes from a whole other level of love and allegiance. When it came to making the decision to donate, which involved travelling back and forth from St. Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton dozens of times in preparation for the operation, John felt that it was all worth it.  

"When we join the police service, the common theme around our decision is to help people. We go out and willingly risk our lives for our community, strangers. When someone I know and care for needed help and I was in a position to help, I did. Now Wade has an opportunity to get his life back, where he can fully engage in the time spent with his wife and two girls and also to return to work where he loves to be, helping others." 

Sharon got Wade home safely. Upon Wade's arrival home, the family feasted together on some of his favourite foods; cheese covered pizza and chicken parmesan. With many dietary restrictions newly lifted by his doctor and the satisfaction of being reunited, Wade and his family ate at home together happily. As the evening unfolded, they discussed needed changes over the next few weeks and months while his health improves. They will work together to follow the instructions of their outstanding health care team for optimal success. Wade found it difficult to express his gratitude to John and the whole Henry family, but did say there are no words that he could say that would capture how truly thankful he is. Wade said a few days after the surgery, 

"I must thank St Joe's hospital in Hamilton, for everything. A big shout out to all of my brothers and sisters in blue, working and retired, and all Peel Regional Police employees. Thank you for reaching out and offering just about everything; one guy even offered to teach me to cook wings, can you believe it? Lol, you know who you are. It's hard to express my gratitude. Thank you all again."  

Peel Regional Police would like to send our thoughts and wishes to Constable Wade Neal on his recovery journey toward his new and healthier life. We offer a collective thank you and speedy recovery to Sergeant John Henry. His selfless act has given his best friend and at least one other person another chance at a longer, healthier life. John wants to highlight that he only has one kidney to offer; hundreds of people are on waitlists and cannot last a decade (or more) on dialysis. Anyone can look into being a donor and saving a life. Wade and John are just one story; there are thousands of other stories waiting to be written. 

We also want to thank all of the health care team of St Joseph's in Hamilton for their exceptional dedication to their work. The sincere love and care delivered to both Wade, John and their families during their stay were remarkable, especially given the unprecedented pandemic protocols. 

Another thanks to the Canadian Blood Services for their services through the Kidney Paired Donation Program. Without this, Wade would have had to wait at least five more years. Again, John Henry wants to urge anyone who has been following this story, if nothing else, to consider the organ and tissue donor options available. If this inspires even one person to become a living organ donor, he is pleased.

Give the gift of life for Christmas. A Safer (and healthier) Community Together.  

The Gift of Life from a Friend

Kidney Paired Donation Program 

Canadian Blood Services 

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton

Headwaters health Care Centre

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