“My dad saved my life when he donated one of his kidneys to me,” says Oliver Senger, a blonde, lanky 17-year-old, about the transplant his father Brent made possible four years ago as a living donor.
When Oliver was six months old, his parents took him to the doctor after they noticed he was having trouble keeping his food down. After many tests, the couple discovered Oliver had abnormally small kidneys, which meant his kidneys couldn’t properly filter waste from his blood.
Eventually, Oliver would need a kidney transplant.
Organ donation in Saskatchewan
The need for organs and tissue for transplants far outweighs the available supply. There are about 90 Saskatchewan people waiting for a kidney transplant every year. In 2014, 30 Saskatchewan residents received a kidney transplant. Twelve of these transplants were from living donors.
“When (Oliver) was diagnosed, we were told he would require a transplant, but we didn’t know when. That’s one of the things that was always hard,” says Brent, who farms with his wife Arnie near Allan, east of Saskatoon. About five years before his son’s condition finally required a transplant, Brent learned that he was a match and could donate one of his kidneys to Oliver.
“He was never on dialysis,” says Brent of his son. “That’s one of the fortunate things of having a living donor. You don’t have to wait and hope to get a kidney. Living donor transplants are the best-case scenario, so we’re very fortunate.”
Before and after the transplant
While growing up, Oliver was able to do a lot of the things other kids do, but afterwards he would suffer. “When I was 12 years old, before transplant, I went hiking with some friends in Jasper,” Oliver says. “After the hike, I was making a sand castle on the beach when all of a sudden I got a headache and started throwing up. Then I went home and slept for the rest of the day. It was not a good experience.”
Eventually, just thinking became strenuous for Oliver and he had to restrict his diet. When he turned 13, he received the kidney from his father.
To ensure that his donated kidney continues to function properly, Oliver has to take anti-rejection medication and drink four litres of water daily, as well as maintain good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
“Having an active life is everything to me,” says the Grade 12 student who wants to study engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. “It’s such a change from sleeping all day to being able to get up and go for a run. I can do anything anyone else can do now.”
Going for gold
Only nine months after receiving his transplant, Oliver started running track. In 2012 he competed in the winter World Transplant Games in Switzerland, where he won silver and bronze in skiing events. A year later, in the 2013 summer games in South Africa, he won gold in the 100 metre sprint.
“Going to South Africa and winning the gold medal was absolutely fantastic,” Oliver says. “It’s a hard thing to explain, competing for Canada and winning gold in the 100 metre sprint, because I was up against kids from around the world who have had a transplant – the very best. Winning gold my first time out as the new guy on the block was excellent.”
This summer, Oliver plans to compete in the World Transplant Games in Argentina, where he hopes to win another gold medal.
“When I come out of the blocks, I feel powerful,” Oliver says of his passion for sprinting. “After I finish accelerating, all I hear is wind as the air rushes past my ears and I feel my muscles working as hard as they can, past the finish line. It’s the most amazing feeling.”
All in the family
Older brother Alex was so inspired by the transformation the organ transplant had on Oliver, he now studies science at the University of Saskatchewan. Alex also volunteers with a program that raises awareness about organ and tissue donation in Saskatchewan high schools.
Similarly, Oliver’s mother Arnie volunteers with the Canadian Transplant Association, as well as the Riversdale Track Club where Oliver trains. “With Oli's transplant behind us our focus now is on keeping his graft healthy, helping him maintain a healthy and active lifestyle and increasing organ and tissue donation awareness for people just like Oli who are in need of a transplant,” says Arnie.
Oliver adds, “My dad’s kidney didn’t just make me healthier, it saved my life.”
Adapted from Oliver’s Story, published February 23, 2015.