Debbi Skinner is an education assistant by day and a wedding and funeral officiant by night.
On Feb 3. the Beamsville grandmother of eight — soon to be nine — donned a hospital gown as she also became an organ donor, donating her left kidney to a recipient at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton.
Skinner, 56, said she had no prior connection to the recipient nor was she on any kind of list or in any program to donate her organs. Instead, she learned about the stranger’s need for the organ through social media in 2018.
She said the decision to donate was instantaneous, with no deliberation.
“It clicked inside of me…I didn’t even ask my husband. I didn’t talk to anyone. I just said ‘yep. OK. That’s what I’m gonna do,’” she said. “And never have I once looked back, I never double guessed it, I just knew.”
Initially St. Joseph refused the donation since the recipient was not a relative and the hospital only did anonymous donations at that time. Skinner said it was while she and the recipient were in deliberations with St. Michael’s in Toronto that St. Joseph’s changed their policy, allowing the procedure to happen. That process took almost a year.
The physical testing began in 2019. After the tests, Skinner had to meet with a psychologist and a social worker, to ensure she had the right supports in place and knew the risks she would be taking. She learned in 2020 that she had a tumour on her parathyroid.
“I was heartbroken. I thought, OK, that’s it, I can’t do it,” she said.
She found out she could do it, though. She just had to wait another year once it was removed.
According to Skinner, the hospital was initially aiming to have her come in December, but due to COVID, a backlog of patients pushed her operation to February. Because of the pandemic, she was also required to self isolate for two weeks before coming in for her operation.
Although isolation was fine, Skinner said it was a lonely experience. She had often seen her grandchildren, but isolation meant she could no longer.
“I had a hard time going between being excited about doing this and feeling really sad that I couldn’t see my grandbabies,” she said. “There were some tears, I won’t lie.”
Skinner admitted she had trouble falling asleep in the nights leading up to the operation. Some close to Skinner expressed their concern for her going through such a major operation, “planting a seed of worry” that wasn’t previously there. But after thinking it over she decided to go through with it.
On the day of her surgery, the elevator got stuck on her way to the operating room. She said she wondered if it was a sign. Instead she decided it was a challenge to see if she was going to still do it, which she was. It was when she was parked outside the operating room that she said she felt fear and a tear ran down her face.
At that point she looked up at a set of doors nearby.
“There was a cross there and I thought, God told me to do this and I can see right now, he’s here with me and it’s going to be OK.”
It was right after Skinner’s surgery that the recipient received the kidney. Skinner went home two days later and is now recovering. Other than some initial nausea and excessive trips to the washroom, Skinner said she is doing fairly well.