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'Please help our coach!': Hockey coach’s life saved by his team

Stephen Gillis needed a new kidney, but a matching donor can be incredibly challenging to find.
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Stephen Gillis coaching youth hockey after receiving life-saving surgery at Vancouver General Hospital.

Stephen Gillis loves hockey. The game has always been a part of his life. From his years as a player all the way through to today where he coaches minor hockey. He’s a mentor. A friend to many.

And in 2018, he nearly lost his life.

“I’ve lived with Crohn’s disease for many years and when I became really sick, I thought it was my Crohn’s acting up,” says Gillis. “It was a shock to find out I developed a rare form of kidney disease and lost over 90 per cent of my kidney function. A kidney transplant from a living donor was my only option.”

Gillis needed a new kidney, but a matching donor can be incredibly challenging to find.

When the kids he coaches found out about his health, they rallied behind their coach and made a video calling for everyone to get tested to see if they were a match.

The video took the hockey world by storm and went viral. And in the days that followed, an old friend of Gillis’s — Michael Teigen — saw it and decided to get tested.

Teigen was a match.

With a donor now available, Dr. David Harriman, transplant urologist at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), had a chance to save Gillis’s life.

“There’s a lot of challenges with surgery such as this,” says Dr. Harriman. “My fellowship director would always say that transplantation is the ultimate team game – it involves our nurses, housekeeping staff, transplant surgeons, transplant nephrologists … it involves all of us working together to try and optimize the outcome.”

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Stephen Gillis with his friend and kidney donor Michael Teigen. Both men had their surgeries at Vancouver General Hospital after Teigen discovered he was a suitable donor, saving Gillis’s life. Photo provided by VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.

The gift of life

Gillis and Teigen's surgeries were performed at VGH, one of only two hospitals in the province able to perform kidney transplants. As a major provider for solid organ transplants in B.C., and one of the largest in Canada, VGH conducts more than 100 transplants each year.

Under the expert care of Dr. Harriman and his team, the transplant was a roaring success. Both Gillis and Teigen had textbook procedures. No complications. And both men felt as well as can be following surgery.

Stephen recovered so well, in fact, he went and coached a game the day after he was released from hospital. It was only five days after his surgery.

“Michael gave me the gift of life,” says Gillis. “It was an amazing, selfless act by a wonderful human being.”

Honour your Angel

It took a community to save Gillis’s life. It was his angels: from the kids he coached and the remarkable friend who gave an incredibly selfless and life-changing gift, to the health care experts who cared for both of them.

“Stephen’s story is a truly heartwarming tale that was only made possible because of giving,” says Angela Chapman, President & CEO of VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. “Stephen gave much of himself in being a coach. The kids gave back what they could and touched the heart of an old friend, who quite literally gave a piece of himself to save Stephen’s life. Without giving, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Your donations can and do save and improve lives.”

You are an important part of that community. Visit vghfoundation.ca/vghangel to donate to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation today and support our hospitals and health care centres, including purchasing critical equipment, funding high-impact research projects, and advancing patient care to deliver BC’s best, most specialized health care for adults, saving lives like Stephen Gillis’s every single day

Learn more about the Angel campaign by visiting vghfoundation.ca