Special to Black Press
They were two teenage girls growing up in a small B.C. town.
Jana Tremblay and Donna Middleton met in Grade 7 and became fast friends through high school. The girls attended Castlegar’s only high school, Stanley Humphries Secondary, hung out at each other’s homes, and had sleepovers where they swapped teenage gossip and dreamed of the future.
The pair lost touch after high school graduation when Middleton and her family moved to Cache Creek, a six-hour drive northwest. Little did Tremblay know that two decades later, this former childhood friendship — renewed just over a year ago through Facebook — would be the key that will give Tremblay’s 14-year-old son Zachary a chance at a healthy life.
“For people who believe in fate, this is it,” said Tremblay, 49, from her home in Castlegar. “The stars really aligned a long time ago for this to happen.”
The pair found each other on Facebook in late 2015 and exchanged messages, catching up on the lost years. Then, it was, as Tremblay called it, “the usual FB stuff,” liking each other posts, dropping a comment here and there on a photo.
Tremblay, an avid Facebook user, uses the social media platform to share updates on her life and family, husband Dan and two kids, Zach and Mason.
An outspoken champion for Zach — who was born with hypoplasia dysplasia, or misshapen or underdeveloped kidneys — Tremblay also uses Facebook to raise awareness about kidney disease and organ donation.
Until he was 12, Zach kept his disease at bay with medication. Since hitting puberty, however, his kidney function has deteriorated into end-stage renal failure. He undergoes 11 hours of dialysis every night and takes 30 pills a day. No one in the Tremblay extended family was a viable match for Zach, who has a rare O negative blood type. He has been on the living donation list since 2015, with no luck.
Last fall, he was placed on the deceased donation list. In January, fed up with waiting, Tremblay decided to take matters into her own hands and used Facebook to make a public appeal, asking people to “help us find our boy his miracle.”
After her post got shared more than 7,000 times, many people, most of them strangers, got in touch, volunteering to get tested.
Unbeknownst to the Tremblays, Middleton had already approached B.C. Transplant to see if she’s a match for Zach. She reached out to Tremblay in late January, letting her old friend know she was in the final stages of testing. Then on Feb. 27, the miracle the Tremblays have been waiting for. Tremblay’s phone rang. “It looks like we have a kidney for Zach,” said a doctor on the other line. Zach, who was playing video games with Mason at the time, jumped up from the couch.
“He had a big smile,” recalled Tremblay. “I was crying. His brother was crying.”
The transplant team didn’t divulge the living donor’s identity, but Tremblay said she felt in her heart it was Middleton. Middleton confirmed it the next day.
Middleton, who initially shied away from publicity, said she and her husband have been blessed with three healthy kids and “I just wanted Jana’s family to have that, too.”
“I couldn’t imagine having to go through the challenges and fear of one of them having such a serious medical condition,” she said. “To be able to give someone the chance at a ‘normal life’ or at least one that isn’t run by a medical condition is indescribably awesome.”
The transplant is scheduled for June 1 in Vancouver.
“I’m very excited about my transplant and how life will be after,” said Zach, who’s looking forward to meeting Middleton for the first time after the surgery.
“He would love to meet her,” Tremblay said, her voice full of emotion. “We will always have a very special bond now. She will forever be a part of our tribe.”
Despite her son’s successful search for a donor, Tremblay’s work is not done. She’ll continue to raise awareness about kidney donation, including helping people who had approached her for advice on how to start their own kidney search.
“We got our gift now,” she said. “But we’re not done spreading the word. There’s still 500 people waiting for a kidney.”