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Kelowna woman to donate kidney to family friend

Kelowna restauranteur Julie Evaskevich in front of the North End Cafe. Evaskevich will donate a kidney to her friend this September and is hoping to find some help to keep her cafe up and running while she recovers. - Kevin Parnell
Kelowna restauranteur Julie Evaskevich in front of the North End Cafe. Evaskevich will donate a kidney to her friend this September and is hoping to find some help to keep her cafe up and running while she recovers.
— image credit: Kevin Parnell

As a mother to three energetic boys Kelowna resident Julie Evaskevich got to know many of her son's friends raising her family years ago in Red Deer.

One of those neighborhood friends was a bright young girl named Tina. But Tina's health would take a turn for the worse some 17 years ago.

"I remember seeing her go from a normal, happy teen to being very pale and drawn," said Evaskevich, now the owner of Kelowna's North End Cafe, her sons having grown up and moved out on their own. "She seemed so tired all the time and she hardly smiled."

It turned out the young girl's kidneys had failed and for nearly two decades that girl, now 27-year-old Tina Lumbis, has been on kidney dialysis, her life a regular routine of hospital visits to keep her alive.

In the meantime, Evaskevich moved away from Red Deer, coming to Kelowna four years ago, purchasing the North End Cafe and getting engaged to be married.

But she never forgot about Tina and the young girl who had struggled for so many years. So with her sons living their own lives, Evaskevich decided to do something about it. She contacted the Living Donor program to inquire about the possibility of becoming a kidney donor. Ironically, she had experience with the process as her sister received a kidney transplant from her brother and is now living a normal life.

She went through a barrage of tests and found out she was a perfect match to donate a kidney to Tina. The kidney transplant is now scheduled to take place in Calgary this September.

"With my boys gone I didn't have anything stopping me," Evaskevich explained, sitting in her funky, north-end diner. "It's simple for me. I have an extra kidney and she needs one. It's been a huge struggle for her and to watch someone struggle and to know you can do something to help...for me...I don't know...it was the obvious thing to do."

Once her kidney was confirmed as a match, Evaskevich traveled to Red Deer and sat down for coffee with Tina to give her the good news.

"I asked her if she was ready to receive a donated kidney if someone had one for her and she said yes," she recalled. "When she found out we had a date set for surgery I think it's the first time I had seen her that happy since before she got sick."

Not surprisingly both women say their relationship has changed since Evaskevich decided to donate her kidney. They are closer and are in touch on a regular basis through text messages and Facebook.

For Tina Lumbis, to receive the gift of life from a friend from her past was something special.

"Words can't really explain what she is doing," Lumbis said from Red Deer. "It's an amazing thing she is doing for me. It's going to give me my life back. I will be able to get out and do things. I just think it's an amazing and wonderful thing she is doing and I will be forever grateful."

Evaskevich also struggles to describe what the two women are going through.

"It's a very strange emotional journey and very hard to put answers to questions like 'how do you feel?' or 'why are you doing this?'," she said. "It touches a part of your emotions that is hard for me to express in words."

For information on becoming an organ donor go to www.transplant.bc.ca.

•••

When Kelowna restauranteur Julie Evaskevich has surgery this September to donate a kidney to her friend (see story) it will be three months before she can return to work and up to six months before she is fully recovered from surgery.

That's a lot of time off for a woman who less than a year ago purchased the North End Cafe and currently runs it with the help of her boyfriend a few volunteers six days a week.

Like many who own their own business, Evaskevich does the work of three or four people, cooking, cleaning, serving, doing dishes and anything else that needs to be done.

So prior to her surgery this September she is hoping to raise enough money to staff the North End Cafe during the time she will be off her feet, anywhere form three to six months.

"I made this commitment to Tina before we purchased the cafe so it had to be a consideration in deciding whether to purchase the cafe or not," she said. "We realized it was going to be more difficult to operate but we would go ahead."

Evaskevich is hoping to raise enough money to cover the costs associated with the kidney transplant. Many of the medical expenses are being shared between the B.C. and Alberta governments while air travel and her accomodation in Calgary has also been taken care of.

But Evaskevich and her fiance are looking for help in keeping the North End Cafe up and running during her recovery and are looking for a couple of part time staffers that can help out.

A fundraiser is also being planned for next month by Spy vs. Spy, where one of Evaskevich's sons works.

If you want to help out please contact Julie Evaskevich at the North End Cafe at 250-860-9599.

Evaskevich has also just found out that another friend of hers is in need of a kidney transplant and any extra money raised will be passed on.

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