Michel Seguin, left, has a functioning kidney thanks to an organ donation from his friend Stuart Asselstine, right. The two are seen here with Seguin’s wife Julie, daughter Renee, and Asselstine’s wife Francine Lamothe. Photo courtesy Stuart Asselstine

Organ donation: The gift of a lifetime

  • November 1, 2020

Stuart Asselstine had every intention of becoming an organ donor but never thought he would be alive to witness a friend benefitting from his generosity.

He had already signed the donor card on his driver’s licence, but when Asselstine learned his neighbour Michel Seguin was in need of a kidney, he leapt at the opportunity to help out.

An encounter at a gym in February 2019 would change both of their lives forever.

“He told me he suffered from sarcoidosis, a disease that affects different organs in the body,” recalled Asselstine, who hails from Cornwall, Ont. “It had settled on his kidneys and over time they started to deteriorate. I just remember saying, ‘You know, what’s your blood type’ and he told me. I said well I’m an A as well so let’s see what we can do.’ ”

Asselstine had the full support of his wife, Francine Lamothe, who happens to be first cousins with Seguin’s wife Julie. The families began the process in April 2019. By July they received their tissue type results back and were thrilled to discover that Asselstine and Seguin were a match. The surgery was scheduled for September of that year.

“By the end of July, I was getting really tired and had a hard time even cutting the grass,” said Seguin, whose Catholic faith helped him through that difficult time. “(Doctors) told me to stop going to the gym and stay away from people because if I catch a virus, then I wouldn’t be able to get the surgery.

“By August my numbers were really down, and I was told that I needed dialysis. With my surgery coming up so soon I refused, and was told if I felt sick, or was nauseous or vomiting, I would have to come in for dialysis, but I was able to wait for the surgery.”

The transplanted kidney took immediately and within hours of the procedure Seguin and Asselstine were already speaking to each other on the phone.

Now over a year with the transplanted kidney, Seguin is happy to report he is healthy overall and no longer feels fatigued. He takes anti-rejection medication daily and will do so for the rest of his life.

In 2018, close to 2,800 organ transplant procedures were performed in Canada, according to the Canadian Organ Replacement Register (CORR), a pan-Canadian information system for organ failure in Canada. Though thousands of organs are transplanted every year, hundreds of Canadians die while on a waiting list because of a critical shortage of life-changing organs.

Asselstine, who has a very physical job working at Walmart logistics in Cornwall, was back at work just weeks after the surgery and has experienced no side effects. Asselstine says he continues to be grateful that things worked out and, through his involvement with the annual Kidney Walk in Cornwall, hopes to continue to bring awareness to the importance of donation both within and outside of the faith community. 

“I have faith and I believe in God and I donated because I felt that if I could help in any way then I would,” said Asselstine. “If it were me that needed a kidney, I would hope somebody somewhere would help and that’s what faith is all about.”

According to Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, in the early days of organ donation Catholics were uncertain about the procedure due to faith questions surrounding the relationship between soul and body. As the process of transplantation became safer, thoughts around organ donation changed within the Catholic community and gained widespread acceptance with some papal endorsements.

In August 2000, Pope John Paul II called transplants “a great step forward in science’s service of man.” In 2008, Pope Benedict  XVI called organ donation “an act of love” that is a “genuine testament of charity.”

“That was a very strong message to people that not only is it OK, but it’s actually something to be encouraged,” said McQueen. “Any way that you can give that does not endanger your own life is the bottom line in Catholic teaching.”

Donors of any age today, living or deceased, are helping to save and improve the lives of Canadians across the country.

With his wife Julie and daughter Renee by his side, Seguin says he is grateful to be among the fortunate ones able to find a matching donor in his circle of friends, while many sit on waiting lists continuing to hope and pray for a life-saving organ. 

“He’s a good friend,” said Seguin of Asselstine. “I was so surprised the first time he told me that he was going to do it.

“I just keep saying ‘thank you.’ ”

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