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Friend donates gift of life to Penticton man

Terry Folkestad and Kellie Wesley share a laugh before their flight to Vancouver Thursday morning for kidney transplant surgery at Vancouver General Hospital scheduled for Monday. - Mark Brett/Western News
Terry Folkestad and Kellie Wesley share a laugh before their flight to Vancouver Thursday morning for kidney transplant surgery at Vancouver General Hospital scheduled for Monday.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Three simple words sum up what the gift of a kidney from a good friend means to a Penticton man.

“It means life,” said Terry Folkestad who suffers from polycystic kidney disease.

He would have never guessed the kidney he has needed for some time now would come from one of his family’s closest friends. Folkestad has the rarest type of blood and was looking at an eight to 10-year waiting list before he potentially would find a match. On Monday his wife’s best friend, Kellie Wesley, will change his life.

“It took a couple of weeks for it to really set in and realize the magnitude of someone giving up a body part for me. It is overwhelming when you sit down to think about it that somebody would be so able to give that to another person,” said Folkestad, whose own father passed away from the same disease he is fighting.

The pair are scheduled to have the kidney transplant operation in Vancouver on Monday after a long process that involved Wesley taking many tests, including psychological, to see if she was a good fit physically and prepared mentally to give a part of herself away.

“We have seen a decline in Terry’s health over the past year and his wife Nancy sent out a email to the close friends that his kidney’s were really starting to deteriorate. They asked people if they would think about organ donation,” said Wesley. “Then last summer we were talking and I found out we share the same blood type. I took it as a sign.”

Wesley knew how the process worked, having seen two of her friends go through it before. After receiving a positive reaction from her own family about the donation, Wesley decided to start the testing to see if she would be a match.

It was mid-December when she got cleared to be a donor.

“I called Terry and Nancy and said I am ready to go through with it. Immediately they were overwhelmed, we were all crying,” said Wesley. “Terry was overwhelmed with emotion and said he couldn’t believe somebody would do this for him. We share Christmases together, have acted like family since neither of us have any nearby and they are like the aunt and uncle to our kids. I keep teasing Terry that we really are going to be related now, like brother and sister or something.”

Wesley has to take two months off from her life to recover, meaning she has to put aside her love for skiing and she will not be working. But being able to give this gift is worth it for her. Part of that comes from not wanting to see her close friends suffer any longer and part from her own dealings with her father who was a paraplegic, and seeing him overcome obstacles.

“I’ve always wanted to help others, and this an extreme way of helping, but I feel like it is the right thing to do. I would hate to see my friend wither away and possibly die when I can help. If it was my husband, my child or my grandchild I would want somebody to step up and help if I wasn’t able to. If I expect that out of someone then I have to be that kind of person too,” said Wesley.

By sharing their story of donation, the pair hope it raises awareness that you can be a living kidney donor and a reminder for everyone to become a registered organ donor. A fundraiser is being held on Feb. 14 at the Best Damn Sports Bar to help grow that awareness and offset the costs the families are facing.

Wesley said the process of testing and now the transplant surgery has helped her make some revelations about herself.

“I think I discovered I am braver than I thought. I’m always a tough cookie when it comes to stuff but I don’t like hospitals, I hate needles and I can’t even look when they take my blood,” she said. “For me to do this is a huge step personally but for some reason I feel really calm and comfortable about it. I am willing to do this for somebody, and somebody like Terry.”

To become a registered organ donor visit www.transplant.bc.ca.

If you have questions about being a living donor, the Kidney Foundation of Canada launched two new discussion forums on organ donation, ForDonorsOnly.com and ForRecipientsOnly.com.

Here information can be exchanged on concerns and challenges experienced both before and after and organ transplant or donation.

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