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Nova Scotia woman says sister in P.E.I. saved her life with kidney transplant

Cheryl Castellani, left, of Hammonds Plains, N.S., and Heather Blouin of Grand River, P.E.I., are not only sisters, they really are the perfect match. On July 23, Heather donated a kidney to Cheryl.
Cheryl Castellani, left, of Hammonds Plains, N.S., and Heather Blouin of Grand River, P.E.I., are not only sisters, they really are the perfect match. On July 23, Heather donated a kidney to Cheryl. - Contributed

A Nova Scotia woman says she owes her life to her sister on P.E.I.

Almost 30 years after being diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, Cheryl Castellani, 53, of Hammonds Plains, N.S., received a healthy kidney from her sister, Heather Blouin, 47, of Grand River, P.E.I.

The operation took place on Thursday, July 23, at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. Just by coincidence, it happens to be their mother’s birthday.

Castellani struggles with her emotions as she describes what her sister’s gift means to her.

“I get to thank my donor and show my donor how much this is appreciated," an emotional Castellani told The Guardian in a phone interview. “What I do with my life will always be in the best interest of what she did for me. It’s overwhelming when I stop to think about it. When I sit and think about it, I really do lose it.’’

Sisters Heather Blouin, left, of Grand River, P.E.I., and Cheryl Castellani of Hammonds Plains, N.S., are pictured at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax following a six-hour surgical procedure that saw Heather donate a kidney to Cheryl. - Contributed
Sisters Heather Blouin, left, of Grand River, P.E.I., and Cheryl Castellani of Hammonds Plains, N.S., are pictured at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax following a six-hour surgical procedure that saw Heather donate a kidney to Cheryl. - Contributed

Blouin said she didn’t hesitate for a moment to be her sister’s donor. As a donor, Blouin was a perfect match for her sister.

“It happens only with siblings and only less than 25 per cent of the time with (a) sibling," Blouin said. “It was easy. It was an honour for me to have been healthy enough to do this. People make comments like, ‘you’re a hero’, but, wouldn’t anyone do it if they could? It’s not even a question."

At the time of the operation, Castellani’s kidney was functioning at about eight per cent. Her creatinine (the waste product that the kidneys filter out) was over 500 (normal is between 60 and 100). Her creatinine is now hovering around 100.

Blouin said their family has a history of kidney disease. Their brother donated a kidney to their father 20 years ago, and everything is still fine there. They also have a set of cousins who just underwent a kidney transplant a couple of months ago. All is well there, too.


Did you know?

  • One donor can provide up to 75 tissue grafts:
  • Sclera tissue is used in reconstructive eye surgery.
  • Corneas offer sight restoration to those with corneal disease or injury. One donor can provide corneas to two patients on the wait list.
  • Heart valves can save the life of someone with a faulty heart valve.
  • Skin grafts can save the life of a critically burned patient.
  • Tendons restore mobility and function to joints damaged by age, disease or injury.
  • Bone grafts are utilized in orthopedic procedures such as hip replacements, spinal surgery, limb salvage and repair of traumatic injuries.

Castellani said her health has been slipping during the past 10 years. She suffered from fatigue all the time. Her goal was to undergo a transplant before the need for dialysis kicked in.

“I had bone pain because your body chemistry is off. My skin was itching and was in terrible shape and I felt like I had a sunburn on my legs," Castellani said.

However, everything changed in an instant when she woke up following the six-hour surgical procedure. Her sister’s donated kidney was functioning as it should, and all the pain and fatigue she had lived with for more than a decade was gone completely.

“It was as if somebody took a magic wand and all of it was gone. Like, it was gone," Castellani said emphatically.

“She was dancing circles around me," Blouin laughed.

“It was beyond words," Castellani said. “I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how good I felt. It was the best I had felt, probably, in five years."

Through tears, Castellani said when she was allowed to get out of bed, she walked down to her sister’s room, wanting to show Blouin what she had done for her.

“I said, ‘look at me’," Castellani said, struggled with her composure. “My motivation was getting down to see her and showing her, ‘look’ … it was so overwhelming. I had my appetite back. I had energy that I hadn’t had. I woke up rested."

Sisters Heather Blouin, left, of Grand River, P.E.I., and Cheryl Castellani of Hammonds Plains, N.S., had special COVID-19 masks made to mark the day Heather donated a kidney to Cheryl. - Contributed
Sisters Heather Blouin, left, of Grand River, P.E.I., and Cheryl Castellani of Hammonds Plains, N.S., had special COVID-19 masks made to mark the day Heather donated a kidney to Cheryl. - Contributed

Castellani said she and her sister were always close, but a different kind of bond has now been created.

“Other than my children, I have never received a gift like this," Castellani sobbed.

Blouin is quick to add it was a gift for her as well.

"Think about being able to make someone you love well," Blouin said. "That's a gift to me."

Castellani said because it was a perfect match, she won’t have to take as many anti-rejection drugs as most transplant patients would. And, that means there will be fewer side effects to worry about.

The two sisters are hoping that by telling their story, people might give some thought to becoming an organ donor.

Castellani said when she was in the hospital, there was another woman undergoing a kidney transplant, a woman who had been waiting for a kidney for four years. That woman received a healthy kidney from a person who had died, and the change in the woman following the surgery was identical to what Castellani experienced.

“If people (considering being an organ donor) could see what I saw no one would hesitate … to see a loved one living on … giving someone this kind of quality of life."


Following is information on how Nova Scotia and P.E.I. deal with organ and tissue donors:

  • In Nova Scotia, changes are in the works. The Nova Scotia Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act will make it possible for more residents to donate their organs and tissues. Effective Jan. 18, 2021, people who don’t register to be a donor or opt out and are eligible, will be seen as having consented to donating their organs and tissues after death. This is referred to as deemed consent.
  • On P.E.I., people 16 years of age and older can consent to be an organ and tissue donor. Parents cannot provide prior consent for the donation of organs and tissues of children under 16. Parents can only consent on behalf of their children if and when the opportunity to donate arises.
  • Islanders can fill out an online form


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