National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week is underway, and a former Portage resident is reflecting on her experience in parting ways with a kidney.

Karen Brown, a woman who grew up in Portage but now lives in Silver Ridge, caught up with PortageOnline to tell the story of when she donated her kidney to her husband, Michael Brown.

Karen talks about how this situation came about rather fast.

"I would say the process for us was pretty quick," says Brown. "His kidneys shut down from an autoimmune disorder that kind of came on very suddenly. So, within a year or so after his kidneys shut down, they said, 'well, it's not going to heal, they're not going to start working. We need to find a transplant option for you.' "

Karen explains that for her husband, searching for a new kidney was between two family members, herself and a friend.

They were all tested to see if they could become donors. However, Karen was the only viable option for the transplant.

She says she knew that she would probably be the one to donate to her husband all along.

"Call it a gut instinct or intuition, when they gave us a hint that maybe his kidneys weren't going to recover, I just knew deep down it was always going to be me."

Karen notes that another person could have donated, but the situation wasn't right due to some medicines that they were on.

She says that although the time span is kind of a blur, it took about a year for Michael to receive a new kidney.

"The testing processes is very extensive. There are CT scans, and there's lots and lots of blood work. There are ultrasounds. I think I had two CT scans for everything. Like head to toe, inside and out, they're checking you out to make sure you're a healthy individual that you can spare, losing a kidney."

Karen points out that her family was blessed to have had the process happen as quickly as it did.

"I know people that are waiting and waiting and waiting for an option, and nothing comes up. But for us, it was relatively quick."

Brown adds that if you're healthy enough to donate, you consider it.

"For myself, I would say it's rewarding." notes Brown. "Life-changing? Maybe for a few months because, ironically, what people don't know is that the person receiving the kidney recovers quickly if they're healthy enough. Whereas myself, losing the kidney, it took me a few months to adjust to not having it. But after you get over that hurdle, we've been blessed."

She says that life immediately after donating was like having the flu.

"The first couple weeks, you're dragging yourself around, you're spending a lot of time laying down on the couch, not doing a whole lot. Then, little by little, you feel better." Brown shares that her surgery was about five hours, whereas her husband's surgery took two hours back in 2017 after the search started in 2016.

Karen says that Michael has been doing great since receiving the kidney and that they both work on their farm ranching cattle.

Lastly, Karen explains that life has been good to her family since the operation, but she still gets humbled when she sees the "tree of life" at the Health Sciences Centre. 

"It's a beautiful piece of art that has a little leaf from everyone that's donated. And although there are plenty of living donors on there, I stop and look at the people who weren't as fortunate. The ones that lost a loved one and were able to donate. It's one of those things where I realize even more how fortunate we are."

tree of life.Tree of life at HSC