Irene Mills recognized with Living Organ Donor award

She gave one of her kidneys to a complete stranger and in return she was recognized nationally for her incredible act of compassion.

Irene Mills was honoured with the Living Organ Donor Award for 2017 by the Canadian Blood Services. She travelled to Ottawa in September to accept an award she didn’t know existed.

Irene Mills in the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec where she received the Living Organ Donor Award for 2017 from the Canadian Blood Services. (Submitted)

In the spring, she took a flight across the country to donate her kidney to a stranger in need, and since then Mills has been steadily recovering in Prince Rupert.

“I don’t see it as a big deal, but I see the enormity of it through other people,” said Mills, a member of the Haida Nation who moved to Prince Rupert four years ago.

In 2011, she signed up for the Kidney Paired Donation program when she learned one of her niece’s friends was in need of a transplant. They weren’t compatible, so to help the young woman find a donor, she signed up for the paired donation program until the woman found a match.

The nomination for the award came from Ruth McCarrell, a clinical nurse leader with the kidney pre-transplant program at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

“I think it’s a truly altruistic offer and it took a lot for her. Then she remained dedicated to this young woman and she told me she just felt this young woman deserved an opportunity for a healthy life and she has children and feels she’s a resource for the community,” McCarrell said.

The recipient was a difficult match and she was in the program for nearly six years. A living donor goes through annual testing and screening to be approved, which means multiple trips to Vancouver.

“Every year when we called her back to ask if she was willing to update her testing, she always said ‘yes’ unequivocally,” McCarrell said.

At its annual Honouring Our Lifeblood event, Canadian Blood Services chose Mills as the honouree from the Kidney Paired Donation program to represent all the living donors in Canada.

After her surgery, Mills left a card for the recipient that read, “Get well, have fun, enjoy life.”

Since then, they’ve been exchanging cards through the donor team, without revealing each other’s identity. There was a “Happy Six-month Anniversary” card and most recently, Mills received a card that said her recipient is doing really well.

Aside from being more fatigued, Mills is fine, and she said the original person she intended to give her kidney to is also recovering well after her own successful transplant.

A video by the Northern View of Irene Mills before her surgery.

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