Penticton resident David Folstad has now had three kidney transplants in 32 years. The odds of successfully finding a match for him when he was placed on the transplant list for the third time were just one per cent, but thanks to a donation chain expanding across the country and a dear close friend, they found him a match. (Jordyn Thomson - Western News)

Against All Odds: Penticton resident looks back at receiving three kidneys in 32 years

David Folstad received his third successful kidney transplant in Vancouver in April

Against what may seem like impossible odds, Penticton’s David Folstad is six months post-surgery after successfully receiving his third donated kidney in 32 years.

Folstad received his first kidney at the Vancouver General Hospital in 1986 after being diagnosed with kidney disease at age 19.

This surgery would prove unsuccessful, his body rejecting the transplant, leaving Folstad fighting for his life for the next five months.

Luckily, fate was on his side and he received another kidney in 1987 that went on to last him for 31 years.

“When that transplant gradually diminished in operation, I started the process to find a donor, and they said they could give me another chance but the only way they could do it is if someone else donates a kidney for you,” said Folstad, who was forced to start dialysis again at Penticton Regional Hospital in September 2018. “Since there are so many people waiting to have a transplant and I’ve already had two, it made sense.”

So Folstad began contacting friends and relatives to see if anyone would consider donating a kidney.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t just a matter of whether someone was willing to donate.

Because he had survived on a donated kidney for over three decades, his body had built up resistance due to the medication he was on, meaning there was about a one per cent chance of finding a match for Folstad this time around.

READ MORE: Looking back at 50 years of organ transplants in B.C.

“I had quite a few friends and family that got tested, but nobody was a match, which is what we expected,” said Folstad. “But the second option we could do is (my friend or family member) could offer to be a donor for someone else, causing a chain reaction where someone else who wasn’t a match for their (loved one) could still offer to donate to someone else and all of the donors in the chain are matched with recipients.”

Folstad said he had a close friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, willing to donate his kidney to someone else so long as Folstad received one in return, so he was put on the transplant list.

He said he was still told it could take years if they ever find him a match, but they would be searching through the national database four times per year. It didn’t take that long.

“The phone rings and it’s the transplant co-ordinator for Vancouver General and she says ‘I’ve never seen this happen, I don’t think I’ll ever see it again, but we found a close match for you on our first try,’” said Folstad.

“They told me the donation chain that I was on involved multiple people in hospitals across Canada. They also said to not get your hopes up because someone could get sick and the chain could break.”

He was advised to not even talk about the fact that they had lined up a donor, because donation chains can break for any number of reasons, such as a donor getting sick.

It wasn’t until the end of January that he finally got the call that his surgery had been scheduled for April.

“So this meant that I had 12 more weeks of dialysis, and all of a sudden it was like swimming the length of a pool underwater, but you can see that you’re going to be able to breathe at the end if you just hang on,” said Folstad. “Before this, there was the possibility that I would just die on dialysis because there are people waiting and dying on the list every day.”

Folstad said the surgery was a success overall, although he had some complications so it took an hour longer than expected, and he was discharged from the hospital within six days. He had to stay in Vancouver for the following six weeks to be assessed by the hospital’s transplant team, but Folstad used it as a chance to stay and visit with his father who lives in the area.

READ MORE: Penticton father planning to donate a kidney to his son

Now six months later, he is enjoying the freedom of no longer having to be on dialysis three times a week for 4.5 hours at a time. Looking back, he said he never lost hope in the process, but recognized that there are many out there who didn’t get the happy ending he did.

“It wasn’t that long ago that an elderly relation of mine was sick, and they told him he had kidney failure, and he decided he didn’t want to dialysis and he died after about six days.

“And that happens, people get tired of the whole process and the diet and the discomfort, etcetera. So I never gave up hope because my family saw the one per cent chance as ‘Yay, one per cent!’ because it wasn’t zero,” said Folstad.

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