Toronto’s police chief will receive the gift of life from his very own wife.
Since being diagnosed with kidney disease, Mark Saunders has revealed to CTV News Toronto that he will receive a transplant from his wife Stacey next week.
“The stars aligned for me,” he said, seated next to his wife in their west-end home on Friday.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones.”
Sometime in the late 90s, Saunders discovered he had been living with one kidney his whole life.
The singular kidney was never a result of a “lifestyle issue,” he said, but merely something he was born with.
“Later on, it turned out that the other kidney had kidney disease,” he said.
“It wasn’t discovered through anything symptomatic, it was me going in and getting blood work done (and) the earmarking’s of the disease were discovered.”
While one healthy kidney is all the body needs to function, an ailing second kidney can quickly become a life or death situation.
Medical work, blood tests and medications soon became part of his day-to-day.
Though he went some time without feeling sick, Saunders later required help from a renal clinic – a specialist-driven service that provides care to people with kidney disease.
“Once you go to a renal clinic it’s higher level, it’s higher intensity,” he said. “You’re dealing with a medical team. You’ve got dietitians, you’ve got nurses you have pharmacists… Food consumption becomes an issue. You can’t eat certain foods.”
Eventually, dialysis was needed.
“I believe it’s about 10 to 13 per cent usage, that’s when they start saying that it’s time to start moving toward dialysis,” Saunders said.
“That was 15 months ago. So I’m 15 months in to home dialysis. It’s how I stay alive.”
Somewhere in between Toronto Police investigations, meetings, and obligations, Saunders squeezes in seven to eight hours of dialysis every night.
“I think when you’re sick for quite a while, you normalize it,” Stacey said.
“You end up normalizing whatever pain there is, you end up normalizing a different diet, you end up normalizing that you get hooked up into a machine every night. I think that becomes your world.”
Saunders and his wife, Stacey, are seen in this photo provided by the couple.
Once dialysis was in full swing, Saunders said he was added to an organ donor list. Initially, he turned to his brothers and sisters to see if they’d be a match.
But Stacey had other plans.
“My wife, who is always one step in front of me, said ‘Nobody goes to do anything without me first.’ She took it upon herself to do the test and it was a match,” he said.
“If I was going to have someone else’s organ, why not let it be from the person you love?”
When asked if she had any hesitation about donating, Stacey didn’t miss a beat.
“No,” she said. “I was excited to help and give him a chance to live a better life again. My family does not work unless he’s in it. There was no thinking.”
Stacey’s decision isn’t out of her character, Saunders said.
“Stacey has always been my rock. My success as chief comes because I have a very strong family,” he said.
“It’s great to come home and Stacey has always been a giving person. She’s got one of the biggest hearts that I know and this is just another example of the human being that I think she is.”
Saunders told CTV News Toronto that he attributes his success as police chief to his strong family.
The family recognizes that few others in need of an organ transplant end up as lucky as they have.
According to the Canadian Transplant Society, more than 1,600 Canadians are added to organ wait lists ever year but less than 20 per cent of Canadians have made plans to donate.
He said visiting the renal clinic regularly was “eye-opening,” having realized how many people struggle with the same situation.
“I consider myself really lucky. It doesn’t matter what role you play, whether you’re a chief or a prime minister, what responsibilities you have in life… if you don’t have your health then really you don’t have a lot,” he said.
“I really don’t think people understand that there are so many people who are in need of help.”
While Saunders admits he’s “a little nervous” about Monday’s procedure, he says he’s confident in the doctors at Toronto General Hospital.
They say their children “felt more comfortable” once they understood that it’s possible to live with only one kidney.
Mark Saunders and his son Graham are seen in this photo provided by the family.
Holding hands throughout the interview, the couple, who have been together for more than 15 years, say they’ll take the recovery period “one day at a time.”
The high success rate for transplants from live donors -- 90 to 95 per cent in Canada – also puts their minds at ease.
But Saunders isn’t quite ready to relinquish his role, even temporarily, as Chief of Toronto Police.
“I have an amazing command at work. The city is going to be just as safe as it ever was, if not even safer,” he said with a smile.
“The new command added to the mix are brilliant alphas, for lack of a better term, they’ll be getting the job done and I’m excited that I can step back a little bit knowing the city will still be the safest city in North America.”
Recovery from kidney transplant surgery typically takes between six to eight weeks.
“I won’t physically be at work,” he adds, “but I’ll know what’s going on.”
Being thrust into the world of organ donation has left the family with a new-found understanding for the millions people around the world waiting anxiously for their second chance at life.
“I hope this is an opportunity for people to understand that organ donations save lives. They save lives. I’ll have an opportunity to hopefully see grandkids and growing old. So I’m very humbled by that,” he said.
“I’m seeing the finish line and I’m seeing it as me being in a much better place at the end of the day.”