“My dad saved my life when he donated one of his kidneys to me,” says Oliver Senger, a 17-year-old who received a kidney from his father, a living donor, four years ago.
When Oliver was six months old, his parents took him to the doctor when they noticed he was having trouble keeping his food down. After a battery of tests, they discovered Oliver had abnormally small kidneys, a condition that meant his kidneys were not fully functioning and unable to properly filter waste from his blood.
“When he was diagnosed, we were told he would require a transplant, but we didn’t know when. That’s one of the things that was always hard,” says Oliver’s dad, Brent, who discovered he was a match and could donate one of his kidneys to Oliver about five years before his son needed the transplant.
“He was never on dialysis,” says Brent of his son. “That’s one of the fortunate things of having a living donor. You don’t have to wait and hope to get a kidney. Living donor transplants are the best case scenario, so we’re very fortunate.”
While growing up, Oliver says he was able to do a lot of the things other kids do, but afterwards he would suffer.
“When I was 12 years old, before transplant, I went hiking with some friends in Jasper,” Oliver says. “After the hike, I was making a sand castle on the beach when all of a sudden I got a headache and started throwing up. Then I went home and slept for the rest of the day. It was not a good experience.”
Eventually, Oliver says, even thinking became strenuous and he had to restrict his diet. When he turned 13, he received the kidney from his father.
To ensure that his donated kidney continues to function properly, Oliver has to take anti-rejection medication and drink four litres of water daily, as well as maintain good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
“Having an active life is everything to me,” Oliver says. “It’s such a change from sleeping all day to being able to get up and go for a run. I can do anything anyone else can do now.”
Only nine months after receiving his transplant, Oliver started running track, and in 2012 competed in the winter World Transplant Games in Switzerland, where he won silver and bronze in skiing events. A year later, in the 2013 summer games in South Africa, he won gold in the 100 metre sprint.
“Going to South Africa and winning the gold medal was absolutely fantastic,” Oliver says. “It’s a hard thing to explain, competing for Canada and winning gold in the 100 metre sprint, because I was up against kids around the world who have had a transplant – the very best. Winning gold my first time out as the new guy on the block was excellent.”
This summer, Oliver plans to compete in the World Transplant Games in Argentina, where he hopes to win another gold medal.
“When I come out of the blocks, I feel powerful,” Oliver says of his passion for sprinting. “After I finish accelerating, all I hear is wind as the air rushes past my ears and I feel my muscles working as hard as they can, past the finish line. It’s the most amazing feeling.”