Dr. Kathi Kovacs has built her life around helping — patients, the community and friends in need.
Asking for help does not come as easily, said her friend Bram Bregman.
On her behalf, Bregman and others have launched an urgent appeal to try to get Kovacs the help she desperately needs.
“Kathi has spent her entire life giving to others, and is now in need of a significant gift — a kidney from a living donor,” wrote Bregman.
Kovacs, a psychiatrist who is chief of staff at Queensway Carleton Hospital, is in end stage kidney failure, a condition her father also suffered from. Some time in the coming months, her kidneys will stop functioning, said Bergman.
Like 1,112 other people in Ontario, Kovacs is waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor. But that might not come in time.
So her friends and loved ones are turning to the public for potential living donors.
Kovacs would require a healthy donor over the age of 18 with blood type A positive, A negative, O positive or O negative. Further testing would be required to determine whether it would be a good match.
Bregman said he has stepped forward, but many more volunteers are needed to ensure the best match.
Living donations now make up almost half of the kidney transplants performed every year at The Ottawa Hospital, which has a well-established living kidney donor program.
While people are born with two kidneys, they can function with one. Recovery takes about six weeks, and most people resume their full lives after that.
While living kidney donation is increasingly common, it is less common for people to donate to those they don’t know. About 96 per cent of living kidney donations are to someone the donor knows. Just four per cent are donated to strangers.
Ottawa’s Heather Badenoch, who is part of the team behind the appeal, is among those four per cent.
In 2018 she became a non-directed living organ donor in Toronto and donated 22 per cent of her liver to a stranger.
“Being a living organ donor is easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As strange as it sounds to say about surgery, it was a joyful experience to help save a life. When I donated, the patient’s entire family was in my heart and thoughts — to keep them together and save them from the loss of a beloved family member.”
Badenoch initially responded to a public appeal similar to the one being made for Kovacs. It was for eight-year-old Gianna-Lynn Favilla, from Russell, south of Ottawa. Favilla got a different donor, but Badenoch stayed in the system and donated part of her liver to a stranger.
Donating, she said, has the potential to save two lives — the recipient and the person who moves up on the transplant list.
Kovacs has been continuing to work, said Bregman, but she is becoming more tired.
The former chief of psychiatry at Queensway Carleton Hospital, Kovacs was named chief of staff during the pandemic.
The child of two Holocaust survivors, Kovacs followed in her parents’ footsteps in several ways. Her parents were both doctors. Like her father, she chose psychiatry. Her parents also instilled the importance of being grateful and giving back, she has said.
Kovacs, along with Bregman started a charity aimed at helping youth. Later, the two along with the late Rabbi Yehuda Simes founded the Torah High program.
When Simes became a quadriplegic after a devastating crash in 2010 and later suffered health issues, Kovacs would be there night and day to help him and his family, said Bregman. Simes, Ottawa’s “Rolling Rabbi” died in 2017.
“She is very private by nature,” said Bregman of Kovacs. Even doing this campaign or having an article about her goes against her nature.
“I can’t remember her asking anything of me in our 25 years of friendship.”
But she does want to raise awareness and let people know there are people waiting for organ transplants and that people can step up.
“This is not just about herself.”
Contact the Living Kidney Donor Program at The Ottawa Hospital for more information, or to be tested as a match, at 613-738-8400 ext. 82719.