By Richard McGuire
Matthew Hassen is lost for words to describe the selfless act of a friend, Josh Hackett, who is donating a kidney to him.
Hassen, 37, works full time as a bartender at the Owl Pub in Osoyoos, but most of the time that he’s not working, he sleeps to restore his internal batteries that are drained by his kidney disease.
If all goes well, Hackett will donate his kidney for transplant to Hassen on Nov. 8 at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).
“There are no words to describe it,” said Hassen. “It’s a completely selfless act. There are humans out there who can really change your world, and he is one of them.”
Hassen said he met Hackett last year when he trained him to tend bar in Penticton.
When Hassen put the word out after his kidney disease took a turn for the worse a year ago, Hackett was one of those who responded.
“I’ve got two,” Hackett told him. “I only need one. You can have the other one.”
After months of blood and tissue testing, Hackett was found to be a perfect match, Hassen said.
Hassen has been a Type 1 diabetic for three decades and he always knew he could have kidney problems.
“We were watching the kidneys over the last 15 years,” he said. “It took a downturn about two years ago when I was working in Vancouver. My decision to move back home was to be closer to my parents and be closer to the kidney team in Penticton, who have been absolutely amazing.”
It became a case of looking for an organ transplant or facing dialysis. Hassen said it took him a couple weeks to absorb the news and discuss it with his parents. Then he reached out to friends on social media.
“I’ve had enough loss in my life,” said Hackett. “I didn’t want to go through that again. When I found out I might be able to help Matt out, I didn’t hesitate.”
Normally the progress in the four to five months of testing and screening between donor and recipient is anonymous, but as a friend, Hackett kept Hassen updated.
In September, Hackett sent Hassen a Facebook message telling him the Nov. 8 date for the operation. A couple days later, VGH confirmed it.
The two men will both go to VGH where doctors will remove one of Hackett’s kidneys and transplant it into Hassen.
Recovery from the operation can take about a year and Hassen expects to be off work for seven months or more.
He’s currently living with his parents, Mat and Ev Hassen, in Osoyoos.
But medical employment insurance only covers 15 weeks, and the hospitality industry doesn’t normally offer the kinds of benefits that certain unionized occupations do.
So Hassen turned to fundraising.
People in the service industry who experience long-term illnesses normally need draw down savings if they have them, or have a good support system.
It’s to fill that gap for hospitality workers that the BC Hospitality Foundation was formed. And that charitable organization agreed to match dollar for dollar whatever Hassen was able to fundraise, up to $5,000.
A fundraiser was held at the Owl Pub on Oct. 14 and it was well attended. It was standing room only as patrons paid $20 for a burger, fries and a glass of beer or wine.
Osoyoos has a history of kidney donors and recipients. And many of these people turned out at the fundraiser.
Back in 2013, a group of past and potential kidney recipients and donors formed under the banner, “Share your spare.” They met regularly at the Kemp Harvey Craig accounting office.
When the group formed in 2013, they set as their goal to find kidneys for any Osoyoos resident who needed one. They promoted the message that a person only needs one kidney to live, and therefore can be a live donor.
As well, patients often do better from a live donor than from a kidney harvested from a deceased person.
The Osoyoos Coyotes got on board, putting patches on their jerseys proclaiming, “Be the Kidney.”
Among those attending the fundraiser was Judy Sloan, an Osoyoos resident who received a kidney transplant three years ago from a cadaver donor. She’d already talked to Hassen about the process.
“She was really helpful,” said Hassen. “I had the kidney team, but it was really cool to be able to speak to someone who had actually gone through the experience. She told me what’s going to happen. The first six months are crazy, matching up the antirejection drugs. But it’s going to be great and it’s good to see somebody who went through the process.”
Lynn Cunningham, another who had been involved with the group, also received a kidney from a cadaver donor. She’d previously gone so far as to advertise for a matching donor.
Brian Rawlings originally planned to donate a kidney to Sloan, but he ended up donating one of his kidneys to another Osoyoos woman, Julie Wolter, in 2015.
Terry Craig, of Kemp Harvey Craig, had earlier donated one of his kidneys to his wife, Laura.
As well as these people from the group, June Sletten, believed to be Canada’s oldest living kidney transplant recipient, also attended. She came to Osoyoos in 1975 and received her kidney transplant back in 1986.
With all this history, Osoyoos has developed a name for itself as a community that promotes transplant awareness.
With Hassen set to become the next Osoyoos kidney recipient, Rawlings suggests that the community may indeed be recognized as the Kidney Capital of Canada.
(With files from Keith Lacey)