By Sue Tiffin
Brad Warren was scrolling through social media four months ago when he saw a post that made him pause, and then take action that would lead to potentially saving someone’s life.
His friend had posted about her husband needing a liver transplant, and that without it, there was a good chance his life would be cut short.
“I figured, I’m the same blood type they need, how about I look into it to see what the process is like, because it’s not a big deal for me to get a not-very invasive surgery, and my liver will regenerate in a few months, and it could give this guy a long life with his wife and kids,” said Warren.
After completing paperwork and some tests, Warren, who is from Kinmount but lives in Cobourg now, ended up being a match for his friend’s husband, but he wasn’t the only one.
“Eventually, [donor organizers] sent me an e-mail and said, ‘hey, thank you for all of your work and everything, but we found a donor for this guy and he’s ready to go in,’” said Warren. “I said, well, was there anyone else I could donate to, because I’ve already come this far, I’ve already decided and I’m already ready to go, so I might as well go through with it for someone.”
After further testing, Warren was told his liver would be suitable for a pediatric recipient, and he could undergo surgery that would remove about 40 per cent of his liver for that recipient in February.
“I mean, it’s great no matter who’s getting a liver,” he said. “It doesn’t change for me, as long as I’m helping someone.”
Last June, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that COVID-19 outbreaks during the pandemic, the subsequent postponement of surgeries to free up hospital resources and other challenges were causing a disruption in transplant operations and the supply of organs.
“Not everybody has all the time, not everybody’s been unlucky enough to be laid off this long and lucky enough that they can go back to their job, but that also means that this poor man, a lot of people can’t help him because people can’t take the time off work, they can’t afford to take the time off work,” said Warren.
In Ontario there were 555 donors last year, 244 of them living donors. As of Jan. 26 this year, there are 1,555 people waiting for an organ or tissue donation – 28 of them between the age of 0 and 17, and 266 of them waiting for a liver. At any time, organ and tissue donation is essential to those in need, but still only 35 per cent of Ontarians are registered to be a donor.
“People keep telling me [it’s a big deal], but it just seems kind of like the right thing to do,” said Warren. “I’ve been off work because I work in a casino and we’re not yet open, so I’m just kind of waiting to go back to work, and I figure I might as well do something with the time,” he said.
Warren laughs when told that most people aren’t spending their time off due to pandemic restrictions as organ donors, and that Netflix has commonly been an option to fill the time.
“I mean, I’ve been doing a fair share of that, too,” he said. “And this, it’s going to take a little bit of time to heal, but it’s not a very invasive surgery. For me it’s not a big deal, but for them it’s life-changing and life-saving, hopefully. I’ll go through a little bit of surgery and a little bit of uncomfortable recovery time to save somebody else – it seems like a no-brainer to me.”
To prepare to become a donor, Warren said he had to complete paperwork to determine medical history including allergies, and then make visits to Toronto General Hospital for several tests – bloodwork, a chest X-ray, CT scans and an MRI. He’s also had several phone calls, including one from a psychologist, who asked his reasons for becoming a donor, and his thoughts about the process.
“There are quite a few questions,” he said. “Do you expect to get anything out of this, and are you prepared for if the recipient doesn’t pull through, and stuff like that … I’d like to at least know if they’ve made it or not, but that’s something the psychologist stressed a lot, are you prepared for if the surgery isn’t a success and they don’t make it, is that something you’re prepared for? As sad as that would be, at least I did as much as I could to give them a fighting chance.”
Warren will not know who the recipient of his liver donation is – the Trillium Gift of Life Network oversees transplants in Ontario and keeps donor and recipient information private – but he will be able to write a letter that the recipient can choose to respond to, post-surgery.
“I’m basically going to say, I hope this liver is good for you and I hope you live a long healthy life because of it,” said Warren. “I don’t really know what I’ll say, I hope it just sort of flows out of me at the point when I’m writing the letter.”
Initially the surgery was slated for Feb. 18, but has been fast-tracked to Feb. 4.
“The closer it gets the more nervous I get, but it’s obviously not going to be nervous enough to deter me from doing it,” said Warren. “I’m still excited about it. I’m excited to get in there and experience it and hopefully help this kid.”
Warren said the worry of being immunocompromised during the pandemic is causing some nervousness, but the provincial stay-at-home orders in place have left him at home prior to the procedure, and his recovery will see him at home for six to eight weeks of recovery.
To help with the financial stress of being a donor – trips to the hospital, parking while there, and medications post-surgery including a daily needle that might not be covered by Warren’s benefits, which run out at the end of February – his girlfriend Kelly Cooney has started a GoFundMe page that in just five days has raised almost $5,000 from 65 donors to help Warren cover expenses during his recovery. The pair will donate any surplus they don’t need to SickKids.
“I’ve been trying to save money,” said Warren. “It’s a little tough with COVID and not working. I’ve managed to save up enough-ish money, and then it got fast-tracked and now I’m falling behind.”
Despite that challenge, Warren isn’t thinking twice about it.
“It seems like the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t understand why more people aren’t doing it. … I encourage everyone to at least think about donating. For me, at least, it doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal if you’ve got the time off and you’re OK with a little bit of a painful recovery for a few weeks, it could save somebody’s life. It could give somebody the rest of their lives with their wife or their kids or their parents if they are a kid.”
o help Warren in his recovery, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-brad-save-a-childs-life
To learn more about becoming an organ or tissue donor, visit: giftoflife.on.ca or beadonor.ca.