‘Ottawa’ ‘Just Instinct’ to give Liver to Young Gianna-Lynn
Ken Budel doesn’t remember making the decision to donate part of his liver to eight-year-old Gianna-Lynn Favilla, the little Russell girl who is a playmate of his own eight-year-old daughter. When her family made a public appeal for a liver donor earlier this year, he just knew he would put up his hand to volunteer.
“It wasn’t really a thought. There wasn’t a decision that needed to be made. It was just instinct.”
The 41-year-old employee of the Ottawa-based Crown corporation Defence Construction Canada is back home in Russell recuperating after about 20 per cent of his liver was removed during surgery at Toronto General Hospital on the morning of April 20. The organ was then rushed across the street to the Hospital for Sick Children, where it was transplanted into Gianna-Lynn. In the recovery room, Brudel remembers saying “there is nothing more I can do.”
Gianna-Lynn suffers from Crohn’s disease and had a condition that caused inflammation of the bile ducts which had badly damaged her liver. Earlier this year, she was put on a donor list, in need of a new liver to save her life.
Her family released a statement last week announcing she had undergone a transplant and that she was recovering in hospital.
Budel, meanwhile, has recovered remarkably quickly. He was wheeled across the street to see Gianna-Lynn and her family a few days after surgery and then headed back home to Russell with his wife Stacy and daughters Lily, 8, and Ruby, 11, just four days after the operation.
At a time when living organ donations are becoming more routine — live kidney transplants are now more common than deceased transplants — Budel is still a rarity. Liver transplants, which are riskier and more invasive, are less common, and liver donations from unrelated donors are rarer still. In most cases, including the donor for Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk in 2015, the donors remain anonymous.
Some have coined the term “super altruist” to describe people willing to give up a piece of an organ — even one that will grow back, as livers do — to help someone who is not a family member. Others call such donors heroes, but Brudel shrugs it off.
“All I did was show up and lay down when they told me to. The miracle workers are the doctors.”
Budel says the fact that Gianna-Lynn is a friend of his daughter, that they live in a small town where everyone was touched by her illness and that she was a child in desperate need of help, made his decision to apply to be a donor an obvious one.
“There was no discussion. My wife said she would have done it as well. There was an unspoken understanding that when the plea went out, the forms were going to go in.”
Budel’s blood type is O, which was a match, and he is in very good shape. He was confident that if they needed him, he would pass the battery of tests required to determine whether a donor is suitable. To be prepared, he went into “training mode” as soon as he sent his application in, thinking “if you are going to do it, you might as well deliver as healthy a liver as you can.”
He eventually did receive a call from the liver transplant program at Toronto General Hospital where he underwent tests including sessions with psychologists. When he learned he would be the donor, Budel says it was a relief.
“Was I nervous? Yes, but at no point did I think I was putting myself into significant danger. I was extremely confident.”
Budel has since had time to think about the significance of the act and says he believes the scar from the surgery represents the way he will approach the second half of his life.
“You start the first half of your life selfish. I am entering the second half of my life; it is an opportunity to be more selfless and compassionate. The scar will be a reminder for me.”
The Budel and Favilla families have been in close contact in recent months. While they knew each other before the transplant, Budel said the two families now have a “different kind of connection that will probably last forever.”
He said he is pleased his own recovery is going well and is looking forward to Gianna-Lynn coming home.
“That will be the next milestone for me. It will be nice to see her around town.”