Valentine’s Day may be a made-for-Hallmark event touted as a celebration of love, but Gurjit Cheema and her husband Shak Pawar have an even better day to mark their love for each other: November 19. That’s the anniversary of Gurjit’s kidney transplant and Shak’s kidney donation. The 30 year old says she’ll never forget how emotional she felt that day, “I remember him coming into my room after my transplant. It was overwhelming to see him. How do you thank someone for saving your life?”
Eight years prior, 19-year old Gurjit had a much different outlook on life. She had stopped making long-term future plans. “You just think you’re going to die,” she remembers. Her health was slowly deteriorating as she battled a kidney disease, so love was the furthest thing from her mind when she first met Shak. There was a spark, but she made it clear she didn’t want anything more than friendship, “There’s too much baggage to bring someone else into it.” Shak didn’t see it that way, and eventually his persistence worked.
While the Surrey couple’s relationship flourished, Gurjit’s health deteriorated, eventually leading to dialysis every night. That’s when transplant became a reality. In 2013, a potential donor came forward to be part of the Kidney Paired Donation Program – which facilitates living kidney donations between patients with a willing but incompatible donor and other pairs in the same situation – on Gurjit’s behalf, but that fell through at the last minute.
Then her parents, brothers and Shak all volunteered to be tested. Initially, Gurjit made plans with one of her brothers to donate using a relatively new procedure for incompatible blood type kidney transplants, but less than two weeks before the scheduled surgery, Shak turned up as a match in the Paired Donation Program. He was adamant he was going to donate to save the life of his future wife. The couple had just started talking about marriage.
So on November 19, 2013, Shak and Gurjit were both prepped for surgery at Vancouver General Hospital. “He got called in first and I walked him down to registration. I remember crying when I had to leave him, it was extremely overwhelming.” They woke up in rooms down the hall from each other.
Nine months later, both fully recovered, Shak took Gurjit to a spot at the airport where they went on their first unofficial date. They used to watch the airplanes fly overhead and eat ice cream. Then Shak got down on one knee and proposed. He had an entire day of surprises planned, including an engagement party with family and friends.
Within the next year, Gurjit finished her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, followed by a wedding and six-week honeymoon in Europe. She now works as a renal nurse, helping other patients who are going through a similar journey. And most importantly, she and Shak can make plans for the future, traveling as much as possible, and living their lives to the fullest. She is encouraged by ongoing research because transplant isn’t a cure yet, “I hope research will support the future me and help my little bean thrive for a lifetime in my body. Look how far we’ve come…there’s only going up from here.”
What would you do for love? This month, the Transplant Research Foundation of BC will be sharing stories of love and organ donation. We want to hear your story. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment on our social media pages.