Giving the gift of life

Maryann Rumney has given her aunt, Wendy Rasmussen, the gift of life with a living donor liver transplant. Now she is raising the profile of living organ donation during National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Maryann Rumney has given her aunt, Wendy Rasmussen, the gift of life with a living donor liver transplant. Now she is raising the profile of living organ donation during National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

Port Alberni resident Maryann Rumney wants people to know that you don’t have to wait until after you’re dead to donate an organ to save someone.

In January, Rumney donated part of her liver to her biological aunt, who was suffering from the effects of Hepatitis C.

The operation was successful and both are recovering from the procedure.

Rumney has had time to reflect while on the mend. She was particularly struck, she said, by how little people knew about organ donation.

“A lot of people have told me that they were surprised that I could make an organ donation while I was alive,” Rumney said. “They thought you have to be dead first and that’s not the case at all.”

That Rumney donated part of her liver is almost a miracle. That she got to donate it to her aunt at all is.

Rumney, 48, is an adoptee. She was born in Vancouver but grew up with her adopted family in Prince George.  She lived in Ladysmith and Parksville before marrying her husband Ross and moving to Port Alberni 27 years ago.

Rumney’s biological father sought her out and connected with her more than 10 years ago. He helped her search for her biological mother but mother and daughter would tragically never reunite.

“She lived in Manitoba but she’d died before I found her,” Rumney said. “My dad helped me find her sisters though, and she’d told them of me before she died.”

She met her aunt Wendy Rasmussen nine years ago.

A Kamloops resident, Rasmussen contracted Hepatitis C 20 years ago after receiving a blood transfusion. Her liver slowly deteriorated and she’d become particularly ill in the last three years, Rumney said.

“She was critically ill, and a year ago doctors gave her until this month to live if she didn’t get a transplant,” Rumney said.

Rasmussen’s condition was complicated by the fact that she has O negative blood. She could only receive a donation from someone else with the same blood type. “I’m O negative, Rumney said.

Rumney said she learned that she could donate part of her liver to her aunt. Her own liver would grow back and her aunt’s would grow to what she needed. “I didn’t even have to think about whether I should do it or not. I just did it,” she said.

According to, the first living organ transplant in B.C. was performed in 1976. Since then, hundreds of living donor transplants have occurred.

Rumney underwent a battery of tests in Vancouver for five months to determine her suitability. Being a genetic match isn’t enough, she said. “You have to be compatible in size and weight for it to work,” she said. “If my aunt weighed more than me for instance then she may need more than I can give.”

She learned in September that she could donate part of her liver to her aunt, and in January of this year doctors gave a green light for the operation to proceed. “I wasn’t excited to do it, that’s not the right word. I was relieved that I was a match,” Rumney said.

The procedure was performed on Jan. 27 at Vancouver General Hospital. The pair went into surgery at 7:30 a.m. Doctors removed one third of Rumney’s liver and transplanted it into her aunt. Rumney emerged first at 7 p.m. Rasmussen’s operation was finished at 10 p.m.

Both are on the road to recovery.

The post-operation period is harder than the operation itself. “We had five months to prepare for the operation. But there’s no preparation time after the operation. You just go right into recovery.”

Rumney says her aunt wouldn’t be alive if she hadn’t have known that you don’t have to be dead to be an organ donor, something that she finds disconcerting.

“I don’t think people realize they can be a donor while they are alive,” she said. “My aunt can drive, shop, go out and do all of the things that she used to do before. She has a life now.”



* Maryann Rumney is the owner/operator of Aaron's Movie Mania, an independent video store on the corner of 10th Avenue and China Creek Road.

During National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (April 18-24) Rumney is collecting donations at her store that will go to the Transplant Research Foundation. She will match donations, she said.

To learn more about organ donations please log on to the Canada Transplant Society or the BC Transplant Society.

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