Local firefighter/paramedic, father, and future organ recipient is trying to change organ donation legislation as only 3% of Manitobans are signed up, as of a statistic taken last week.

The Canadian national average of people signed up to be an organ donor is 25%. Right now the wait time for a kidney donation in Manitoba, because of the low percentage, is roughly ten years. That is the longest transplant wait time in Canada.

Winnipeg Firefighter Kyle Schmidt knows this all too well, as he is waiting for a healthy kidney transplant. 

"In 2010 I was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. At this point, the doctors are suggesting that I might have to go on dialysis or get a kidney transplant in the very near future."

Schmidt is the kind of person who thrives when he's helping others. As a firefighter/paramedic, he helps save lives all the time. Now, he is pushing to create a better system for organ donation here in Manitoba. 

"Since [I was diagnosed] I've made it my goal to learn about the program and the system. How to help myself and yet help others as well. There's room for improvement."

That improvement starts with more Manitobans signing up for organ donation

"We need people to sign up for life so that there are more kidneys available," says Schmidt.

Manitoba has over 1800 people on dialysis and 400 of those are in need of a kidney transplant. 

"Nova Scotia moved to an 'opt-out' organ donation program, and it passed legislation. As of January 2021, everyone in Nova Scotia is presumed to be an organ donor unless they opt-out."

While the province of B.C. is interested, no other province including Manitoba has this yet in place. In fact, Nova Scotia is the first place in North America to have this legislation in effect and one of only a few in the world that does, according to Schmidt.  

"Manitoba is still doing an 'opt-in' organ donation program where people are presumed to not donate their organs when they die unless they opt-in to a program. In 2011, the Manitoba government started a website, called signupforlife.ca. They wanted everybody to go through this online platform, but only 3% of Manitobans have signed up, as of last week. If I can improve that percentage slightly and get a few more kidney donors out there to help others, that would be helpful to me as an emergency responder and as a local Manitoban."

There are multiple benefits to having more people on the donor list.

"The other benefit of promoting kidney donation is economic spinoffs. They say one single kidney transplant surgery is about $40-50,000. But a patient that's on dialysis for a year is approximately $100,000. So if we can get people new kidneys, then we can also save thousands of dollars every year."

Schmidt's Personal Story

Kyle Schmidt.(Supplied)

Right now Schmidt has a line up of potential kidney donors who are being tested. However, as of three weeks ago, this was not the case. 

"I'm still working, tired all the time. I sleep long nights but I'm up consistently through the night to go to the bathroom. My kidneys are struggling to maintain the fluid balance in my body. I'm still able to work at this time, but who knows for how long."

It was at this point that Schmidt's doctor told him it'd be good to find potential donors, and he hopes to have this all figured out before he has to go on dialysis.

"When I found out I needed a kidney, my wife and I sat down and discussed how we were going to ask and get the word out. We came to the conclusion that we would start with family first. Once we exhausted those options, we would go to social media."

Most of Schmidt's relatives live out of province, which makes donating an organ much more difficult. 

"We needed to have five to ten options of potential kidney donors and the only way we could do that was through social media."

After gaining attention in Winnipeg, within a week, Schmidt was able to reach his required amount of donors. 

While this benefits the firefighter, there is a long process involved before the surgery date can be set.

Schmidt says, "They only test one person at a time so it takes months, perhaps even years before the kidney donation works out."

The hardest part for Schmidt wasn't necessarily the waiting. 

He says, "I've always been in community service, it's been twenty years as a firefight/paramedic. When I go to help others, I never really think of the need to ask for help myself. That was the hardest part."

Once Schmidt and his wife put out the call and people answered, it became tricky to move forward, as Transplant Manitoba has orders in place when it comes to strangers.

"Transplant Manitoba's policies and procedures don't let you give organs to strangers. You have to have an established relationship with somebody. Lots of people who stepped forward don't even know me and they were ruled out right away."

The organization has this in place as a security measure so that people who donate organs don't have regrets and are not doing it for financial gain either. 

It has still meant a lot to the couple, as it looks like now Schmidt won't have to wait ten years before he receives a new kidney.

"I've been very overwhelmed and grateful for all the people that have come forward. Complete strangers that are willing to volunteer, it really goes to show the kindness of Manitobans put together. Friendly Manitoba, right?"

While most people are born with two kidneys, people can live "long healthy lives with one kidney", according to Schmidt. As a healthy adult, there are little to no side effects to donating your kidney.

"You're down for a month or two, whatever it is for surgery recovery, and then you're back at work. There's no additional medications you have to take or anything."

Schmidt says, "I have a list of potential donors in place now that are family or friends that have since stepped up since the media releases, to volunteer themselves to be tested for kidney donations. That's a huge help and I'm very grateful for that."