Sitting in his home in the Rose Valley of West Kelowna, Ken Taylor reminisces of an active lifestyle that he used to live, and of a time when his kidneys didn’t threaten his life.
“He’s worked really hard his whole life and kind of deserves to really enjoy his retirement, and he’s just being hindered by this now” said Sherrie Taylor, Ken’s daughter.
Ken is a 73-year-old retiree who was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) 30 years ago and has fought a silent battle ever since. In the past five years, his kidneys continued to decline, causing his overall health to worsen with them. Ken lived in various communities across BC for his work; now, his family are reaching out to all the communities that he once called home in the hopes of finding a donor match for him.
“He’s always been super active,” said Sherrie.
From Midway to Nakusp to West Kelowna, Taylor has seen –and lived– in places across BC. Like so many people and families in the interior, he lived a full and active lifestyle before his PKD got bad. From hiking to mountain biking to golfing or hunting — if there was an activity that brought Taylor outside, he was up for it.
The husband, father, and grandfather had his retirement plans pared back, forcing him to slow down and not do the things that he enjoys.
“He’s tried dealing with his kidney disease for such a long time, and I think it’s just finally catching up to him,” said Sherrie.
As the ‘polycystic’ in the name suggests, PKD causes many cysts to form inside the kidneys of those who have it. The cysts aren’t cancerous, but they’re filled with fluid; they’re obstructive and make the kidneys less efficient, causing the patient’s kidneys to enlarge and eventually fail.
Kidneys act as a filter for the body’s blood, so when they start to fail it can cause other health problems that can present themselves in various ways. Sherrie talked about what Ken’s failing kidneys meant for him.
“He ended up having, I think, three heart attacks as a result. And has been hospitalized a few times for dangerously high potassium and had an internal bleed,” said Sherrie, adding “just sort of a bunch of things that started to happen because of this kidney disease.”
Another concern for the Taylor family is brain aneurysms. Sherrie said her father has a higher risk of having a brain aneurysm due to his PKD. Besides heart attacks, internal bleeding, and the risk of an aneurysm, Ken is also exhausted.
He’s not alone in his exhaustion.
The Taylor family have sifted through two generations, and about 10 different family members, to see if they had a match to donate one of their collective kidneys to Ken. The search turned out empty for various reasons. A kidney stone in one family member, the wrong blood type for another, others were not cleared medically to withstand the operation. The family’s bad luck pushed them to start looking nationally for a kidney.
Ken and Sherrie are signed up for the Kidney Paired Donation program through Canadian Blood Services. The Canadian Blood Services explains how the program works on its website.
“Imagine you want to donate one of your kidneys to a family member or a friend who needs a transplant. However, medical tests show that you are not a good match for them. Another potential donor and their transplant candidate are in the same situation. Turns out you are a match for the transplant candidate in the other pair, and the potential donor in that pair is a match for your friend or family member. Swapping donors in these two pairs makes two transplants possible.”
After some initial optimism about the prospect of the program, the family still had no success.
The issue they continue to face is Ken’s blood, which is type ‘O’. With type ‘O’ blood, Ken can only receive a kidney donation from someone with the same blood type, which has proven difficult.
Sherrie talked about what a kidney transplant could mean for her father, based on the information she was given when she was screened as a potential donor.
“He would actually immediately feel amazing,” said Sherrie.
PKD is an inherited disease, meaning the transplanted kidney wouldn’t be at risk of contracting the disease, so the recipient can return to a normal life. Revelstoke physician, Dr. Bret Batchelor confirmed that donors can also resume their normal lives after the transplant, as two kidneys are considered redundant and the urinary system can safely function with just one kidney.
With his current kidney function down to 9 per cent, a transplant would give Ken immediate relief.
Ken will go into hospital next month to get the operation to allow him to go onto dialysis. The dialysis machine will act as an external kidney for Ken, allowing him to function. Dialysis will keep Ken alive, but it doesn’t allow him to regain his quality of life. Patients on dialysis must receive frequent treatment at a centre, making any type of travel a challenge.
The Taylor family are asking those who are interested in learning more about kidney donations to visit the Providence Health Care website to learn more.