Calgary woman grateful after receiving life-changing organ donation

Jessica Casey advocates for organ donation after a successful kidney transplant

By Leanne Murray | July 20, 2022 |5:00 am

A Calgary woman is encouraging everyone able to do so to become an organ donor.

Photo: Shutterstock

A Calgary woman is grateful to an organ donor and the team at Foothills Medical Centre for giving her a new lease on life.

Jessica Casey is 35 and has been a Type 1 diabetic for 22 years. She grew up in Ontario and has lived in Calgary for about seven years.

She says she fell in love with Alberta after graduating from university in hotel and food administration and completing an internship in Jasper. Casey opted to move to Calgary to take advantage of the opportunities a large city offers.

High quality of care

Thanks to a handful of complications due to her chronic illness, Casey has spent quite a bit of time at both the Foothills hospital and Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.

“I’ve lived in three different provinces. The health care that I’ve gotten in Calgary has been the best that I’ve ever received,” Casey says.

She also speaks highly of the care she received in Edmonton. Casey underwent her first transplant in 2019 when she received islet cells at the University of Alberta.

“It’s basically for blood sugar control… to see donor cells being injected into your liver to stimulate insulin production,” Casey says, adding that even though it’s not a solid organ, she still had to be on immunosuppressants leading up to the procedure.

Unfortunately, Casey’s kidneys then started to spiral downwards and she was eventually listed for both a kidney and pancreas transplant in May 2021, and started dialysis.

At the time, she was told the wait would likely be between four and nine years.

The third time’s a charm

Surprisingly, Casey got a phone call just two weeks later. The organ ended up not being viable, but it gave her hope that the wait wouldn’t be so long after all.

A second call sometime later didn’t work out either, but the stars aligned on June 12.

Casey currently works two jobs. She works full-time for the LNG Project in Kitimat, BC, and when she’s back home in Calgary on her days off, she works as a restaurant server.

She and her boyfriend bought their first house and she took some extra days off from her full-time job to move and get settled.

“I was supposed to be at work in BC when I got my call [for the transplant] but I was in Calgary,” Casey says, adding her nephrologist said it was serendipitous.

Meant to be

Despite needing a kidney and a pancreas, the latter wasn’t viable. However, Casey successfully received a kidney on June 13.

She says she was up and walking two days later, and was discharged from the hospital after less than a week.

“I haven’t felt this good for so long. I’m almost functioning normally with the exception of a big incision in my abdomen,” Casey says.

The kidney started working immediately after the transplant, she says, explaining that her creatinine levels returned to normal right away.

Successful surgery and recovery

Casey also says she had brain fog while on dialysis and was nauseous and tired all the time, adding she didn’t fully realize how sick she was until she started to feel better.

“I feel amazing. I have clarity. I’m able to have a life again,” she says.“I got my life back. So I’m really, really happy. Everything worked out perfectly.”

As for a pancreas, Casey says she will be re-evaluated in three months to see if she can be listed for transplant or if another islet cell transplant is an option.

“The difference is, obviously, surgery is a lot more serious if it’s the pancreas and islet cell transplant is not as serious,” she explains.

“But, the chances of having long-term effects are better with getting a pancreas than getting the islet cells. So, there are a lot of things I have to consider before I make my next move. But I have three months to figure it out.”

Giving gratitude 

Casey is very thankful for the transplant team at Foothills Medical Centre.

“From the day I started dialysis to the day I got my transplant, they’ve all been phenomenal. They do amazing work. I can’t give them enough credit.”

Due to privacy restrictions, Casey doesn’t know anything about her donor, but she is thankful to them and their family for changing her life — and likely the lives of several others.

She says she will forever advocate for organ donation.

“It’s extremely important,” Casey says, adding she encourages everyone who is able to do so to become an organ donor.

“It’s a really tough subject because usually when it does come to organ donation, you’re dealing with immense loss. But, to be able to take a loss and turn it into life for multiple people, and to have this kind of impact is major. It’s life-changing.”

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Leanne Murray

Leanne is a Calgary Citizen reporter.

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