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Our Stories

St. Michael’s honours live kidney donor

Toronto, August 7, 2014

Debbie Lanktree (left) and her brother, James Pettigrew
Debbie Lanktree (left) and her brother, James Pettigrew.

Twenty-five years ago, James Pettigrew gave his sister, Debbie Lanktree, a new lease on life when he selflessly donated one of his kidneys to her at St. Michael’s.

He was honoured by Dr. Jeff Zaltzman, the medical director of the Renal Transplant Program, and Dr. Phil McFarlane, the medical director of the Live Donor Program at St. Michael’s, for his action.

“I would donate to Debbie again in a minute,” said Pettigrew. “I never gave donation a second thought when she needed help. It wasn’t a hard decision because I knew it would improve and save her life. I’ve never really liked being the centre of attention but it is an honour to be recognized today.”

Not only is Lanktree a recipient, she has also spent much of her professional and personal life promoting organ donation. She worked for five years as the director of finance and administration at Trillium Gift of Life Network, the provincial agency responsible for planning, promoting, co-ordinating and supporting organ and tissue donation and transplant for Ontario. She is also a past board member of the Kidney Foundation of Canada (Ontario Branch) and the Canadian Transplant Association and has participated in track, badminton and bowling at a number of Canadian and World Transplant Games. In 2005, she won a bronze model in the 1,500 meter run at the World Transplant Games in London.

“My brother’s gift changed my life,” said Lanktree. “When I found out I needed a transplant, I was only 29 years old. I thought my life was going to be short-lived and I’d miss out on so many things that other people take for granted like marriage, building a career and starting a family of my own. But thanks to Jim I have had a fulfilling life up to this point. I have built a great career, married a fantastic husband named Richard and have two wonderful children named Caitlyn and Dylan.”

Lanktree and her husband recently purchased a cottage next door to her brother and look forward to creating many more happy family memories in the years to come. “Jim will always be my hero for so selflessly giving a part of himself to save me," said Lanktree.

St. Michael’s has one of the largest living donor transplant programs in Canada and was the first hospital in North America to perform a blood type incompatible living donor transplant using Glycosorb © columns, a process that reduces the proportion of antibodies directed against blood group A or B. Its surgeons also perform laparoscopic or keyhole donor surgery that allows for a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery period and the ability to return to work more quickly than through an open-procedure donation.

“Recognizing our donors is an important part of our transplant program,” said Dr. Zaltzman. “They really are heroes and it always feels great to give something back to them. This case is also significant because the transplanted kidney has lasted 25 years, which is beyond the traditional 15 to 20 year range we typically see.”

Living kidney donation is the preferred transplant option because kidneys donated by this method typically last longer, tend to be healthier and often work right away as compared to those from a deceased donor.

Support research and care at St. Michael’s by making a donation today.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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