Just over a year ago, Tony Timmons underwent a major surgery for someone who once was a complete stranger.

Now, Timmons and Ryan Mclennan have formed a strong, life-long bond.

It all started in early 2018 when Timmons, 48, was driving from Airdrie, where he has lived with his wife Lisa for 20 years, to his job with FedEx at the Calgary International Airport.

A big yellow billboard caught Timmons' eye, which read 'Ryan Mclennan needs a living kidney donor. Blood type O.'

The billboards were the idea of Mclennan's wife Shakina.

Originally from the Estevan area of Saskatchewan, Mclennan, now 44, moved to Calgary in 1997.

He says he was in the best shape of his life when he was told both of his kidneys were failing at just 27 years old.

"I was an extremely young, fit guy. I was into martial arts, mountain bike riding, everything active," says Mclennan, who went for a physical and was told his blood pressure was through the roof.

Mclennan was sent to a specialist, but says the reason for his kidney failure was a mystery.

"They had no idea why, there was no history of it. They did biopsies on my kidney, they had no idea why my kidneys were failing. They just speculated the high blood pressure," Mclennan says.

At 29 years old, Mclennan underwent his first kidney transplant, donated by his mother. Mclennan says he was blessed with good health for many years following the surgery, but that eventually the kidney started to fail and he found himself going downhill fast.

Mclennan says he spent about five years looking for another donor, which was like "finding a needle in a haystack".

Little did he know a stranger from Airdrie would be a match.

After seeing the billboard, Timmons did some research and started the process of getting tested to see if he could donate.

He says his family thought he was crazy at first, but that he felt compelled to help.

"Suppose that was me, hooked up to those machines and I'm waiting for someone to step forward. I wouldn't want to be in that situation," says Timmons.

In October of 2018, after months of testing, Timmons was given the go ahead to donate his kidney to Mclennan.

The surgery was scheduled for November 28, 2018.

Timmons ended up taking six months off work and recovered well. Just a couple weeks ago, Timmons was flown to Texas where he received a Humanitarian Award from FedEx after his boss secretly nominated him.

Mclennan's recovery was more complicated and he took about a year off from his job as a high school shop teacher.

He says there will always be a bit of a dark cloud, but that every day is a celebration.

"People see me now and they can't believe the transformation," says Mclennan. "Any day, any week your kidney could fail, but you have to just stay positive and keep pushing forward and take care of yourself the best you can."

Mclennan says he's thrilled to be healthy enough to travel to Saskatchewan to spend Christmas with his family back home for the first time in about five years.

Since the surgery, Timmons and Mclennan have become great friends.

"We played pickleball the whole Summer and once a week, if not twice a week we go out or we go play cards or have games and stuff, it's crazy. It's just like an instant friend out of nowhere," says Timmons.

"I've never met anyone like Tony, he's just such an incredible person and same with Lisa as well," says Mclennan. "We usually see them every week, basically they're part of the family. And it's not just because he gave me a kidney. If it wouldn't have worked out, I honestly think this is exactly how it would be right now, we would be friends with them."

Mclennan is determined to help others find organ donors. He says he's currently working closely with another Calgary man as well as a couple from Edmonton and he wants people to think about becoming donors.

Timmons says he'd like to see presumed consent with organ donations across Canada.

Currently Nova Scotia is the only province with such legislation, although Alberta may soon be following suit.

In November, Bill 205: Human Tissue and Organ Donation (Presumed Consent) Amendment Act passed first reading in the Alberta legislature, though the private members bill is still in the early stages.


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