OTTAWA – On the day Jason Dunkerley married Colleen Hayes seven years ago, he pledged to support her in sickness and in health.
As in the vow, sickness came first, unfortunately.
Hayes, 34, was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2008. She was able to stave off dialysis until last November and, a month later, learned that Dunkerley, a Paralympic athlete, could donate one of his healthy kidneys to her.
Seven weeks after surgery, Dunkerley and Hayes were a picture of health on Sunday as they crossed the finish line at the third annual Alive to Strive race.
“It’s great to be up on our feet and out here on a day like today,” a smiling Dunkerley, 35, said after the race. “It almost feels like nothing happened.”
The pair walked in the five-kilometre event, while hundreds of others enjoyed one of spring’s first warm weekend days by running or walking in the one-, five- or 10-k events, which all raised money for Alive to Strive.
The Ottawa charity provides grants to people in the Ottawa area who have chronic kidney disease to help them stay physically active by joining a gym, getting a personal trainer or lacing up a pair of running shoes.
Sunday’s event raised about $17,000 for the Alive to Strive Kidney Fitness Project, as well as for the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Canadian Diabetes Association and the Ottawa Kidney Research Centre.
Approximately two million Canadians have chronic kidney disease, while nearly 80 per cent of the 4,300 Canadians on the waiting list for an organ transplantation are waiting for a kidney.
Staying active helps people with kidney disease maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure. And if a transplant is an option, being fit helps people mentally and physically prepare for and recover from the surgery, said Robin Strong, a race organizer.
“(Jason and Colleen) are a great example of how being fit and active can benefit kidney patients and transplant patients,” she said.
Before the surgery, Hayes said she had visions of being laid for up weeks in recovery. Thankfully, it has been much smoother than that. Dunkerley was released from The Ottawa Hospital’s General campus two days after the operation and Hayes was released after five days.
“We’re both very surprised about how we’re feeling,” Hayes said, adding, “And very grateful.”
Physical activity has been a “huge part” of Hayes’s life for the past number of years and delayed the need for dialysis. Post-surgery, getting out for regular walks has helped make her feel a lot better, Hayes said.
Even though they were close before and have supported each other through highs and lows, the couple said the kidney-donation surgery has brought them closer together.
“This has just solidified that,” Hayes said.
Dunkerley added that donating a kidney to his wife was a “no-brainer.” The experience has put a lot of things into perspective and allowed the couple to spend a lot of time together over the past eight weeks.
Both are visually impaired and said they are also grateful for support from a network of family and friends.
A five-time Paralympic medallist who won a bronze at last summer’s Olympic Games in London in the 1,500-metre run, Dunkerley was ordered by doctors not to train for six weeks.
He’s got the all-clear now and says he is starting to train again.
“It’s one step at a time,” he said. “The main thing is to come back healthy.”