Vancouver actor Michael Teigan never imagined he would one day become a living organ donor. But that is precisely what happened as he became a match for Stephen Gillis, a former colleague at Vancouver TheatreSports.
A television, film and stage actor, Tiegen’s journey as a kidney donor began in April when his girlfriend told him their friend Stephen’s condition had worsened. Not having seen Gillis in about ten years, it took a viral video made earlier that year to jog his memory.
Immediately setting out to complete the necessary paperwork to become a living donor, it turns out Teigen wasn’t the only one. “I went in for my surgery in March knowing that from that video, there were thousands of calls and hundreds of people who signed up to get tested,” says Gillis.
It would be weeks later before Gillis got word there was a match. “I got a call from the transplant team telling me that there were three people who were a match, and one in particular that they were really hopeful for, but that maybe I’ll know soon,” says Gillis who explains it is the donor who ultimately gets to tell the recipient they are a match.
That person turned out to be Teigen, who surprised Gillis while he was in the hospital recovering from surgery. “I thought Michael and his partner Denise were coming by just to say hello because I was in the hospital,” recalls Gillis. “The last thing I thought was that I would find out that Michael was my donor.”
It was, of course, all caught on camera.
Not originally planning on chronicling his decision to become a donor in such a public fashion, Teigan says it turned out to make perfect sense to help raise awareness. “The rise in enquiries about organ donations and people getting tested was astronomical when Stephen published that first video,” says Teigan.
It is a similar story for Gillis, who considers himself a fortunate guy with so many other people waiting for transplants. “There’s a lot of people out there that need an organ donation,” he says. “So if Michael and I can help bring awareness to not only kidney disease but how people can help by becoming a donor, it is the least I can do.”
While receiving news of Teigan becoming his donor was huge, Gillis got another big surprise, just in time for the holidays.
In hospital just a few days ago, undergoing one of the three dialysis treatments he receives each week, Teigen was able to surprise his friend one more time.
It was, of course, all caught on camera once again.
“It was so much fun to do the first one, and I wanted to do it again, to have some fun with him, to keep it light and humorous,” says Tiegan. “It was more for him and our journey, but in the back of my mind, I knew he would post this video as well, and it would help to bring even more awareness to organ donation.”
“This being my first holiday since I started dialysis, I thought at first that maybe they gave everybody a gift,” recalls Gillis at receiving the gift from his nurse. “And then I see the date on the t-shirt, and out of the corner of my eye, I see Michael and I put it all together.”
As for receiving the news just before the holidays, Gillis could not think of a better Christmas gift. “I’m a big hockey card guy, and you could give me a Wayne Gretzky rookie card right now, and I could care less,” he says with a laugh. “I feel so lucky and grateful for Michael and his selfless, heroic act, and I’m just so blessed and grateful for him.”
But while Gillis’ story has a happy ending, both want their story to inspire others. “I hope that all this ends up not only helping me but helps a lot more people in this province and beyond,” says Gillis.
Tiegan also wanted to be sure potential donors knew they don’t have to be an exact blood match. “Stephen and I are not the same blood type, but we are still a match to donate,” says Tiegen. “So even if you don’t think you would be a match for someone, you should still go in and get yourself tested.”
With one in ten Canadians affected by chronic kidney disease, the need is great. Interested in becoming a living donor yourself? Visit transplant.bc.ca for more information.