British Columbia woman donates kidney to stranger in Winnipeg

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As a lawyer, Carolynne Burkholder-James has written many deathbed wills for clients and their families and feels strongly about helping someone who wants to live longer.

“It’s really clear to me that we’re only on this earth for such a short time,” the Prince George woman said on CBC Daybreak north.

That realization is part of what inspired her to give life to someone she might never meet.

After months of medical evaluation, Burkholder-James flew 700 kilometers from the north on December 1 to Vancouver General Hospital for kidney surgery. The kidney was soon placed on a plane bound for an unknown patient in Winnipeg.

“It’s really only been a month or so of my life that I’ve had this kind of impact on other people. I really felt this was an opportunity to give back.”

Burkholder-James was one of more than 200 anonymous non-targeted donors across the country who participated in Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) national paired kidney donation program. People involved in the program say that these foreign donations have a big impact, and trigger a chain reaction of people who need transplants and get help.

Live donations, better results

The system – also known as chained kidney donation – works by matching a pool of anonymous donors and patients who need a kidney according to blood type.

Data from Canadian Blood Services shows that most donors in the national kidney-paired donation program are targeted donors, meaning the donor is a relative, spouse, friend, or co- transplant patient worker and the donor’s blood type matches that of the patient.

Transplant patients who do not have matching targeted donors need anonymous non-targeted donors to provide kidneys.

The BC Transplant Society said that in 2021, 75 kidneys were donated from living donors, compared to 150 from deceased ones. The agency says that in patients waiting for a kidney, transplant results are better with kidneys from a living donor.

CLOCK | How do chain kidney donations work?

“It takes a certain kind of person to be so selfless”

Burkholder-James says her interest in becoming an anonymous kidney donor was sparked after reading an article in the New York Times about chain organ donation a decade ago.

“At the time I was like, ‘Wow, I could do this one day,'” she said. “Then, a few years ago, I decided to make it happen.”

Carolynne Burkholder-James said she decided to anonymously donate her kidney to a stranger after reading an article in the New York Times about chain organ donation a decade ago. (Submitted by Carolynne Burkholder-James)

BC has the second highest number of anonymous non-targeted donors in Canada, according to CBS — 78 compared to Ontario’s 105.

Olywn Johnston, the medical director of the Vancouver General Hospital for kidney transplants, says that British Columbia has about 300 patients waiting for kidney transplants, and because of the constant demand, she praises anonymous donors.

“It takes a certain kind of person who is so selfless to do something like that,” Johnston said. “They go through all these tires and still want to donate.”

As a mother of three, Burkholder-James says the surgery, which removed one of her kidneys, was less painful and risky than a caesarean section.

“The first few days were tough, but after that it was much better,” she said.

Burkholder-James encourages people to become anonymous kidney donors by registering online at

Carolynne Burkholder-James is pictured with her husband Peter and their three children at Vancouver General Hospital. (Submitted by Carolynne Burkholder-James)

Daybreak North7:20kidney donation chain

Hear the journey of Prince George’s wife to donate a kidney to a complete stranger


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