Metro Vancouver sisters share 'unbreakable' bond following living kidney donation

Sisters Reema Garcha and Binn Johal, who share a Jan. 15 birthday, are seen as children. As adults, Garcha offered her kidney to save Johal's life.

Sisters Reema Garcha and Binn Johal have shared a lot in life, including their birthdays. They were born five years apart on Jan. 15.

As kids, Johal said the shared birth date used to be a source of frustration.

“Because she’s the younger sister, it was a little bit annoying I had to share my birthday with her,” she said. “But as we got older, we celebrated our birthday together every year.”

In 2017, Johal was told she needed a kidney transplant, following a decade of deterioration as the result of an autoimmune disease.

“I was very tired...you just don’t feel good,” she said. “My family got tested, but anybody could get tested, it could be a complete stranger who could be your match, could be your friend.”

Garcha also stepped forward to get tested to see if she could be her sister’s living donor.

“I wanted it so bad,” she said. “In my heart I knew I would be a match.”

Then, in late 2017, Garcha got the news she had been hoping for: she was a match for Johal.

“It was the best news ever,” she said, and recalled calling her sister to tell her. "I often say I won the lottery that day.”

Johal remembers that call well.

“It was very emotional,” she said. “Because your life can go one way or the other, and I just happen to have an amazing sister who gave me a life.”

The transplant took place in February 2018 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Johal said she was in a room just down the hall from her sister.

“The next day I walked to her room,” she said. “So that was incredible.”

Garcha recalled she still wasn’t out of bed when she saw her sister walking into the room.

“So I thought, gosh, this kidney’s working,” she laughed. “I joked and said you must have got the good kidney.”

Over three years post-transplant, the sisters are doing great.

“When I do look at my tiny little scar, it’s just unbelievable thinking that that actually happened,” Garcha said. “It seems like a hard decision but really for me, it was an easy decision. It was about giving life to a loved one.”

While people don’t need to be related for living donation, the experience has only strengthened the connection between the two sisters, according to Johal.

“We always had a really tight bond, we were best of friends,” she said, and added with a laugh: “I just can’t get mad at her any more.”

Garcha agreed.

“It’s a bond that is unbreakable now,” she said. “It’s also given me so much more purpose in life. It’s elevated my whole thinking on life itself, and all of my family members, knowing that we could make this much difference has been incredible.”

Along with considering living donation, Johal said it only takes minutes for people to sign up to become organ donors, which could end up saving multiple lives.

“It’s the ultimate gift to give somebody," she said. “You’re changing their family’s Iives as well.”

Though it came a few weeks past their joint birthday, the gift Johal received from her own little sister has made all the difference in her life.

“She’s my hero.”

For more information on living donation, visit BC Transplant’s website.