She gave him her kidney – and he stole her heart

Elora couple urges others to become organ donors after whirlwind romance leads to successful match

ELORA – Whether it was a match made in heaven remains to be seen, but doctors certainly approved the match between Emma Smith and Ben Doerksen.

As it turns out, it’s a match that has been life saving for Doerksen and life affirming for Smith, who started investigating whether she could donate a kidney to Doerksen just a few months after meeting him for the first time.

The story of this Elora couple is magical in many ways, Smith said in an interview.

They met at a Halloween party in 2021. Their eyes met across the room, they chatted all evening, and there was an immediate connection, she said.

They are both 33, both business owners – she the Lost and Found Café in Elora and he is co-founder of Rowantree Landscapes – and Smith said she was smitten.

“Our eyes met, and we fell in love,” she said. “Ben is the most humble, kind person with a heart of gold.”

Doerksen was in fine health until spring of 2021, when suddenly he wasn’t.

“He suddenly had kidney failure and had to go on dialysis – five sessions a week, a very restricted diet and fluid intake. He was on dialysis when we met,” Smith said.

It was a restrictive lifestyle. He could never be far from the hospital and those almost-daily treatments.

He was a candidate for a kidney transplant, but it’s no simple matter to find a donor who is compatible. Usually family members are the best bet, but not in Doerksen’s case.

As time went on and they got to know each other better, Smith started thinking maybe she would be a match. Maybe she could donate her kidney.

She started the testing process in January 2022 – blood tests, background health check and so on. And every time she passed a test, she advanced through the screening program.

She kept it a secret until she had passed the first few hurdles. Then she told Doerksen what she was up to.

“He was shocked; it floored him. He had no idea and he never asked me to do it,” Smith said.

She continued with the tests until October 2022 when doctors in London, Ontario said it was a good match.

“My coordinator called and said I got the green flag to donate. I was thrilled,” Smith said.

The surgery was booked for Nov. 16, 2022.

“I never like to use the word ‘easy,’ but it was pretty easy for me,” Smith said.

Surgeons used laparoscopic surgery, which involves small incisions that are quicker to heal.

Smith was in the hospital for four days and it took about two months for her to feel she was back to normal.

Doerksen’s surgery was more complex. He was in hospital for two weeks and had to be monitored closely to ensure his body did not reject the kidney.

But everything went swimmingly.

“I found out how rare it is to be as compatible as we are,” Smith said, adding they grew as a couple as they recovered together.

It was a bold move to decide to donate a kidney, especially to someone she hadn’t known that long.

What if they broke up? Would she come to resent it? Smith said she gave it a lot of thought.

“For me, I just kept saying, why not? None of us knows what tomorrow will bring so why be afraid. And this could save someone’s life.

“I learned that I’m fearless,” she said with a laugh. “A lot of people donate to strangers. With Ben, I saw my future with him.”

And now, almost a year later, they are heading to Newfoundland for a week’s holiday, something Doerksen could never have done without a new kidney.

“Seeing Ben healthy is my reward,” she said. “Seeing him live his life again is really cool. Seeing him chug four glasses of water makes me happy.

“I would do this three times over just to see him live.”

As one might expect, the couple strongly supports organ donation and signing that organ donor card.

They are also committed to kidney research and have registered as a team for the Kidney Walk in Guelph on Oct. 1, a fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

The walk is at the Guelph Golf and Country Club. Registration time is 9am and the walk begins at 10am.

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