Cindy and her brother Tim

Cindy Cherry: The Experiences of a Living Organ Donor

“How fortunate am I that I could help Tim in his battle against kidney disease” recalls Cindy Cherry over 40 years after she donated her left kidney to her brother. “Listen, I had the opportunity to help Tim get his health back on track and let me tell you if there was anything I could do to help him, no questions asked, I was going to do it.”

Cindy and Tim’s journey began four decades ago. Having just graduated from college, she went home to Boston, where her dad was coaching to Bruins. Life was good, and she was contemplating what her future would bring.

However, Cindy had no idea of the surprise that was in store for her when she arrived home to find her brother gravely ill. “Sick doesn’t even describe it. He looked like a ghost when I first saw him. They told me he had kidney failure and required dialysis to stay alive.” How did this happen? What is dialysis? Will my brother be ok? These were all questions she asked herself.

Despite her shock, Cindy first thought was, how can I help? Remembering the events, Cindy says, “there was no discussion about it. If he needed a kidney, I have an extra one, so what do we need to do to make it happen.”

Testing started immediately, and just three weeks later, doctors told Cindy she was a match. October 10th (1978) was the day her brother was going to get a second lease on life.
Tim was on dialysis for about 4 or 5 months – the memory is a bit cloudy 40 years later – “but that was 4 or 5 months too long. I know things have changed in terms of detection, prevention, and transplantation today compared to 1978, but our transplant system is still a long way from perfect. Why aren’t folks getting a pre-emptive transplant? Why are we waiting until people need dialysis before they get on the list? Why are patients getting so sick that they become ineligible for a transplant?”

As a living donor who was out of the hospital in 5 days, fully back to her routine within 4-5 weeks, and who has never had a complication resulting from donating a kidney, the is the biggest message Cindy leaves with people: “We all have two kidneys, but we only need 1. Too many Canadians are needlessly suffering. If there is something you can do to help your family, friend, neighbour or just someone in your community why wouldn’t you do it?”

She continues, “Canadians need to do better. From government to communities because as a country, we aren’t doing enough to support organ transplantation,” and to patients waiting for a new organ, Cindy says, “be your own advocate. Don’t be afraid to take control of your journey because it is your health at stake. And don’t be afraid to ask your loved ones to donate – you will be surprised at the response you get.”

Today, Cindy remains a staunch organ donation advocate. She volunteers with patients on dialysis to help them navigate the complex transplant system, and she spearheaded WHL Suits up with Don Cherry to Promote Organ Donation games.

Cindy happily says, “If these games make one person donate – or even just sign their card and start a conversation, well, this means everything to patients on the waitlist. Organ failure can impact anyone, so let’s work together so everyone who needs a transplant receives a transplant.”