May 21st, 2024

Organ recipient a strong supporter of Green Shirt Day


By Lethbridge Herald on April 5, 2024.

Cam Couture, Grant Hunter, Bernie Boulet, Mariko Boulet, Toby Boulet, George VanderGaast, Jan Clemis, Liz Higo and Jamie Matisho pose at this year’s Green Shirt Day event at the Taber Ice Arena. Submitted photo

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Because of an organ donation, Jan Clemis still gets the opportunity to spend time with her grandchildren in Taber.

Clemis, who suffers from a hereditary disease that caused renal failure and required a kidney transplant, was on dialysis for 1.5 years, driving to Lethbridge from Taber three times a week until she received a new organ.

Clemis’ two daughters both have the same kidney disease and their mom fears that unless a cure is found, they’ll be facing the need for transplants at some point later in their lives.

“Our family is very tightly connected to transplants,” said Clemis in a recent interview.

Her former husband Kelly had a double lung transplant in 2014 which got the family three extra years with him, those years which included the weddings of their daughters and a new grandchild to hold.

“They were very meaningful years that we had extra with him.”

Kelly died right when Jan had renal failure – “it was a pretty tumultuous time,” she recalls.

“I had anticipated it, we have a familial disease, it’s a hereditary disease so I knew I would have renal failure at some point. And as my dad had had, and my cousins and my sister. There are many of us in our family that are affected.”

Her son was tested and was a match so in August of 2018, Clemis received her kidney transplant, just months after the crash of the Humboldt Broncos crash which claimed the life of Lethbridge’s Logan Boulet and 15 others.

“I was sitting in a dialysis chair when they had the crash. You realize then that enormity of that gift of life because he took two people off dialysis and saved four other lives and it really, really hit home for our family,” says Clemis of Logan.

So her family has a strong connection to the organ donation fraternity.

“We are very vested in the transplant community for many reasons. Not only because it’s the right thing to do but because we’re all personally impacted by transplant. 

“And to see Kelly go from being on an oxygen machine 24 hours a day to be able to six weeks after his transplant, he was able to walk Bonnie down the aisle. It’s immeasurable the positivity of transplant and what it means to a family to regain strength and health, the ability to go and do and participate and just live life to the fullest,” Clemis says.

The family has always been involved in the Kidney Foundation and got involved with the transplant association afterwards with Kelly being a strong advocate for people to become donors. After her transplant, she met the Boulet family who she says “are just so eloquent and articulate.

“It’s so impactful for young healthy people to donate to their healthy organs to others,” says Clemis, who knows two other area “Angel Donor” families who are also grateful to the Boulets for the time they spend spreading the message that out of a tragedy “there can be this bright light and there can be some grace that comes knowing that your loved one is lost but other families don’t have to suffer the loss that you did.

Angel Donors are people whose organs were donated after they  died.

“Logan’s legacy means so much across southern Alberta and across Alberta and Canada and the world,” says Clemis, who has gone to the summer and winter World Transplant Games and people around the world are familiar with Logan’s story.

“It made that big of an impact across continents and that speaks to Bernie and Toby and their message and their ability to share their story in such a way that is meaningful to people in other countries. 

“We’re all in for Green Shirt Day in this household, that’s for sure,” adds Clemis.

While kidney patients have the stopgap of dialysis, for others with failing hearts or livers there aren’t a lot of other options, says Clemis.

“We’re very fortunate in the kidney community that we do have dialysis,” says Clemis, whose sister in the U.S. was on dialysis for nine years before getting a transplant, the average wait being four to seven years.

“With kidneys, because of our high rates of high blood pressure and our high rates of diabetes and just some of our ethnic groups that are predisposed to renal failure and those diseases,” there are a number of people waiting on a list for a kidney so the Kidney Foundation is highly involved in the promotion of Green Shirt Day, she says.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to get to know Toby and Bernie and Mariko and Cam. . .they’re just such a gracious family with their time and helping out with whatever and whenever is needed, in whatever way possible. They’re always on hand to be a spokesperson for the transplant community. We’re just so fortunate that they’re in our area.”

Clemis says it’s important for people to have discussions with family and loved ones about potential donors because ultimately even if people sign an donor card, families can override decisions.

“We want to create that culture of organ donation being the default. If you wait until your loved one is sitting in a hospital bed, the default is often ‘no’ so if you have the conversation ahead of time like Logan had with his dad, then you know your loved one’s wishes and then you know you want to honour those wishes should a tragedy befall your family,” adds Clemis.

“That’s why it’s so important these Green Shirt Days generate those conversations.”

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