She gave one of her kidneys to a complete stranger and in return she was recognized nationally for her incredible act of compassion.
Irene Mills was honoured with the Living Organ Donor Award for 2017 by the Canadian Blood Services. She travelled to Ottawa in September to accept the award she said she didn’t know exist.
|Irene Mills in the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec where she received the Living Organ Donor Award for 2017 from the Canadian Blood Services. (Submitted)|
Last spring, she took a flight across the country to donate her kidney to a stranger in need, and since then Mills has been steadily recovering in Prince Rupert.
“I don’t see it as a big deal, but I see the enormity of it through other people,” Mills said, a member of the Haida First Nation who moved to Prince Rupert four years ago.
She has donated blood since she was 18 years old and she went further in 2011, when she signed up for the Kidney Paired Donation program after learning that one of her niece’s friends was in need of a transplant. They weren’t compatible, so to help the young woman find a donor, she signed up for the paired donation program until the woman found a match.
The nomination for the award came from Ruth McCarrell, a clinical nurse leader with the kidney pre-transplant program at St. Paul’s Hospital.
“I think it’s a truly altruistic offer and it took a lot for her. Then she remained dedicated to this young woman and she told me she just felt this young woman deserved an opportunity for a healthy life and she has children and feels she’s a resource for the community,” McCarrell said.
The recipient was a difficult match and she was in the program for nearly six years. But Mills stuck with the paired donation program until the young woman found the right donor.
As a living donor, Mills went through annual testing and screening to be approved, which meant multiple trips to Vancouver.
“Every year when we called her back to ask if she was willing to update her testing, she always said ‘yes’ unequivocally,” McCarrell said.
Every year, the Canadian Blood Services honours donors and volunteers at the Honouring Our Lifeblood event. Mills was selected as the honouree from the Kidney Paired Donation program who represented all the living donors in Canada.
McCarrell was amazed at Mills’s dedication, offering this gift to a recipient as though they were a close friend or family member.
After her surgery was complete, Mills left a card for the recipient that read: “Get well, have fun, enjoy life.” Since then, through their donor team without revealing each other’s identity, they’ve been exchanging cards. There was a “Happy six month anniversary” card and most recently, Mills received a card that said her recipient is doing really well.
Aside from being more fatigued, Mills is fine, and she said that the original person she intended to give her kidney to is also recovering well after her own successful transplant.