'I found an angel': North Shore mother of 2 finds living kidney donor

Just a few months ago, Alexis MacKay-Dunn said it was hard to visualize her life in the future.

“I couldn’t imagine my kids growing up, because I just didn’t know,” she said tearfully.

At the time, the mother of two young children was waiting and hoping that a living kidney donor could be found for her.

She had been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2018 due to an autoimmune disorder with no known cause. Shortly after her daughter’s birth in 2019, she went into acute kidney failure.

In April, she began dialysis.

“That was three days a week, four hours at a time, plus travel time, so it cut into a large part of my week away from the kids,” she said. “I did that for two months, which in the scheme of things (for) kidney patients, is nothing. I’m very fortunate.”

Earlier this year, MacKay-Dunn shared her story publicly, hoping to connect with potential donors. Her husband Rob and his cousin in Calgary, Sandra Salazar, were among those who started the process of determining whether they could be a donor.

Salazar recalled first meeting MacKay-Dunn at a family wedding event years ago, and said she had thought about living donation before.

“You wonder if you have it in you to do it,” she said, adding she didn’t realize how serious MacKay-Dunn’s condition had become until her cousin reached out online.

“I immediately said, ‘I know that I’m a type-O, I’m a universal donor, so I’m willing to start the process,’” Salazar said.

In the meantime, MacKay-Dunn began fundraising for the Kidney Foundation, raising more than $13,000 individually and participating in the five-kilometre Kidney Walk on June 6 with her family.

“Initially, my husband was a match, but nobody wanted two parents to be down and out for weeks,” she said.

In May, she got the news that Salazar was a match. Salazar got to deliver the news to her cousin-in-law herself, over a video call.

“I FaceTimed her as she was finished a dialysis appointment,” Salazar said. “Then she started to cry, and then I started to cry.”

The transplant took place at St. Paul’s Hospital on June 14. Both Salazar and MacKay-Dunn spent a few days in the hospital before heading home.

“Surgery went well, we had some fun in the hospital hobbling to each other’s room,” MacKay-Dunn said. “I did have a mild rejection, which, you know, by the book, wasn’t supposed to happen. But I had steroid treatment and we caught it very early, and so far everything’s been great ever since.”

Salazar said she’s been “feeling great” during her recovery.

“Sleeping more than than I used to, but that’s OK, that’s to be expected, I think, with any surgery,” she said. “I’ve been feeling really good.”

MacKay-Dunn said she can feel her energy coming back, and her husband Rob has also noticed the change.

“Seeing Alexis bounce back with her energy and her cognitive abilities in the last number of days, it’s just been remarkable,” he said. “I just can’t thank my cousin enough. She’s so selfless. She’s been a champion throughout this whole process.”

MacKay-Dunn and Salazar said they now share a special bond.

“I found an angel,” MacKay-Dunn said. “I’ve got a sister for life.”

Salazar said her advice for anyone considering becoming a live donor is just to take it “one small decision at a time.”

“At any point during the process, you can back out and that’s OK,” she said. “You’ve got your own reasons. It’s your life. For me, what made it easier was just to make the first small step. I didn’t try to think about it as a huge undertaking.”

MacKay-Dunn said she’s also heard other people who initially reached out as potential donors may end up helping others, instead.

“We’ve heard, quietly, that a few of the people who had come forward to try and be my donor have decided to move on and be an anonymous donor for somebody else, which is just so incredible to me,” she said. “You’re changing someone’s life, and I think if you have that feeling that you want to help, there’s hundreds of people in this province that need a transplant.”

Anyone who is interested in finding out more about living donation can find more information here.