Irene Mills is a traditional weaver

Heart of Our City: Planting the seed of life (VIDEO)

Altruistic acts in the community can be found in all sizes and forms — even the shape of a kidney.

Altruistic acts in the community can be found in all sizes and forms — even the shape of a kidney.

March is National Kidney Month, and by coincidence, one Prince Rupert resident has gone under the knife to give her kidney to a complete stranger who lives across the country.

Irene Mills moved to Prince Rupert four years ago. Her first taste of the city was in the hey day of the ‘80s, when she remembers the Performing Arts Centre had just opened, and artists were excited to have a space where their talents could thrive.

An artist herself, Mills is a traditional singer and Haida weaver. She lived in Haida Gwaii until she was seven-years-old. Her father had been the airport manager in Sandspit, and they often moved around the province for his work.

Six years ago, she was living in Skidegate reading through Facebook posts when she saw that one of her niece’s friends was in need of an organ from an O Positive donor.

“I have been a blood donor since I was 18, which is a long time ago now. I knew I was O Positive so I volunteered,” Mills said. Through a Facebook message she asked what the young girl needed — a kidney.

Mills knew she could live a robust life with just one kidney. The seed was planted once during a conversation she had with a choir singer who was helping her improve her voice. The woman told her that she had donated a kidney and she seemed fine.

“My dad only had one-and-a-half, not a full two kidneys. My now late brother-in-law also only had one. I had in my mind that people can live very well with only one. When I offered, I had that sense of knowing that people do very well,” she said.

The seed had been planted and when the opportunity came to sprout, she signed up to be a living donor.

But she wasn’t a match. Instead of letting the moment of altruism fade, Mills persisted. She signed up for the Kidney Paired Exchange Program, run by the Canadian Blood Services. Four times a year, the program looks for possible matches.

With annual check-ups to see if she remains in good health, Mills was finally matched with a recipient — someone she will never know due to privacy restrictions in the organ donation process.

Recovery can be six to eight weeks, and Mills, who is the community relations coordinator for Nexen’s Aurora LNG project, and who has her own soap business Suds n Stuff, has been preparing for time off work.

But for a little extra support, her supervisor set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $2,500 to support Mills while she recovers. Nine days after the page went up, they had already overshot that goal at $2,885 with 27 donors.

Asking for help from others wasn’t something Mills intended when she signed up. She’s an independent woman who raised two kids, and she admitted she’s had trouble adjusting to the kindness from the community.

Although the goal has already been reached and continues to grow, Mills said each extra penny will go toward the recipient in helping them with their healing process.

This act of kindness, is only one facet Mills’s character. For more than a decade, she has been a traditional weaver with her work catching the attention of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The museum commissioned her to create a basket in three stages. At the time, she would soak the bark and weave in the morning, go to work, then come home and weave in the evening.

The other side to Mills can be found every Saturday, at the Moose Hall where she sets up shop at the Last Minute Market to sell her soap products, made from locally sourced and organic materials. She has even learned to reduce sea salt, brought to her by a fisherman friend, to add to her products.

Usually a private woman, Mills has adopted the road of public awareness with her quest to donate her kidney to someone in need.

As of March 2017, there are more than 500 people in need of a kidney transplant in British Columbia alone.

“I hope the attention to this is that seed gets planted in others. If you look into kidney donation and the length of time that people are on waiting lists, it’s substantial. We do need, I think, more people across the country, thinking about this,” she said.

 

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