Brotherly love. It doesn’t get much bigger then when you donate a kidney to your brother. (L-R) Neil with his brother Michael right after surgery at Vancouver General Hospital. (Carrie Blackwell photo/Lakes District News)

Brotherly love. It doesn’t get much bigger then when you donate a kidney to your brother. (L-R) Neil with his brother Michael right after surgery at Vancouver General Hospital. (Carrie Blackwell photo/Lakes District News)

Burns Lake man has new lease on life after kidney donation from brother

“I’m feeling better than I’ve felt for years,” says Michael Blackwell

Michael “Mac” Blackwell is now able to do things he hasn’t done in years thanks to the kindness of his brother.

The Burns Lake man, who now lives in Prince George underwent a successful transplant operation in April when his brother Neil donated a kidney.

“I’m feeling better than I’ve felt for years,” Michael said. “I have way more energy. I used to puff and gasp after walking up stairs. But I walked 30 blocks the other day in Vancouver. It felt good.”

Michael had since 2001 struggled with Berger’s disease, a disorder that causes kidney inflammation. Doctors told him at the time that his kidneys were functioning at about 36 per cent. The functioning rate gradually fell over the years until they hit a low of eight per cent last August.

He was put on a dialysis machine and could no longer work at his forestry business.

“I was feeling pretty low. No energy and I was nauseous all the time. My legs were swollen and I was unable to work because I was at the hospital three times a week for dialysis,” he said.

He began the process of searching for a kidney donor. His wife, sister, brother-in-law and niece came forward but they weren’t the right medical match.

But testing revealed that his brother Neil was the right match. His kidneys were at an 85-per cent functioning rate.

“I had to do seven-day blood tests, MRI, CT scans, ultrasounds,” Neil said. “I found out that I’m pretty healthy.”

The transplant operation was supposed to have happened earlier but both of the Blackwells caught COVID-19 which delayed the procedure.

The brothers, once recovered from COVID-19, finally had the operation on April 11 in Vancouver General Hospital.

“(Neil) went in an hour or two before me. They removed his kidney first and then they brought me in and put his kidney in me. My other kidneys weren’t diseased, so they gave me a third kidney. They left my two in and put in a third. I had never heard of that before but it’s quite common.”

He was in the hospital recovering for about seven hours. He has been feeling better and better ever since.

Neil was released from the hospital two days after the operation, walked three blocks to his hotel and felt fine, he said.

“The doctor said as soon as all my organs started working properly I could eat and drink what I wanted and my lifestyle would go back to normal. After a few days I had a steak and everything was good. I was pretty sore for a couple days but nothing that I couldn’t handle. I’ve felt more nervous about getting teeth pulled than getting a kidney taken out!” Neil said, laughing.

He added that he wouldn’t think twice about doing it again for his brother.

“It feels good to be able to help somebody out that way. Anyone who has the opportunity to give a kidney should do it,” he said.

As for Michael, he has been off the dialysis treatment since the surgery and is looking forward to returning to work in June.

“It’s certainly a blessing to be from a great family,” he said. “During the time I was on dialysis I talked to people who had been on dialysis for three to five years and I was just on it for 10 months. I’m very fortunate.”