For Hans and his fellow soldiers the war was already over. It was now a matter of just staying alive. A farmer’s basement was not the ideal hideout but the best they could find at this moment. It didn’t take long before the basement was discovered by Canadian soldiers. When the door flew open, Hans, along with the others shouted, “Don’t shoot!” “Don’t shoot!” To their great relief there was a loud clear response: “Don’t shoot” “Don’t shoot!” Remarkably, neither side fired a bullet.
Angela’s decision to start a grand adventure in Canada wasn’t an easy one. After all, it was a land far from everything she knew. But strangely enough, her parents allowed her to start a new life in the land of the maple leaf. A life of travel and adventure was exactly what Angela was striving for when she left for Canada in 1967.
The same year, Dr. William Lakey performed the first kidney transplant in Alberta and became one of the pioneers of organ transplantation in Canada.
Edmonton, Canada, 1982
Angela’s health gradually deteriorated and the doctors said she was in a dire need of a kidney transplant. Dialysis was not an option for a young woman at the start of her adult life. Fortunately, Angela was in great hands. It was Dr. John B. Dossetor from the same Transplantation Research Unit of the university, who took over Angela’s case. The doctor asked if she had any relatives that could be considered as a donor. Angela answered, “Yes, but they all live in Germany.” The only way to proceed was to test them to see whether they were suitable to donate a kidney for Angela. The entire family, her mother, father, brother and sisters travelled from the small town where they lived to Munich to go through a series of intensive tests. In 1982, all test results had to be faxed and mailed to Edmonton. It was a painfully slow and lengthy process.
It was soon discovered that Angela’s mother was not suitable as a donor because of her health issues. One of Angela’s sisters was not a match. Although the other sister was a match, the transplant team didn’t want to take a kidney from a woman in her child-bearing years. The only person that could donate a kidney and save Angela’s life was her father.
His decision was quick. “If you want my 60-year-old kidney, I would be happy to help” and with a gentle smile added, “you need it more than I do.” The doctors were impressed with Angela’s father’s health – for a 60-year-old, he was in a perfect health. Arrangements were made to bring Angela’s father and mother to Edmonton to go ahead with the transplant.
The transplant operation, led by one of the pioneers of organ transplantation in Canada, went well. Angela was in intensive care because the possibility of rejection was quite high. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, living two to five years after a renal transplant was considered a success. In early 80s, the chances had improved but it was still a risky proposition.
Fortunately, Angela was doing well. Her life quickly returned to normal. It took Angela’s father six weeks to fully recover before returning to Germany, where he continued his work at the steel factory until his retirement at age 65.
Before he left for Germany, however, he shared a secret with his daughter. He didn’t want to come to Canada because he was afraid of a backlash. After all, he was the young soldier, Hans, who had been captured by Canadian soldiers at the end of the Second World War.
At that time, he was an airplane mechanic. Toward the end of the war, Hitler called on all the troops for a last attempt to reverse the fate of Germany. All young men had to join the army, whether they wanted to or not. Despite Hans being a peaceful person, he was recruited to the army.
In the last days of the war, Hans and his friend hid in the farmer’s basement. It didn’t take long before the basement was discovered by the Canadian soldiers. Hans was taken by the Canadian troops as a prisoner of war and put in a prison camp in Belgium. “I was treated very well,” Hans told his daughter. He recounted being extremely lucky that he was taken a prisoner by Canadians and not the others.
Almost forty years after the war, Hans came to Canada to see his beloved daughter, for his last mission – to save her life.
Vancouver, Canada, 2018
“The longer I live, the more I focus on appreciation.”
Today, thirty-six years after the transplant, Angela is feeling fine. The gift from her father is still working – a record on its own, as the average life of a transplanted kidney is about twenty years.
Angela participated in the Canadian and World Transplant Games.
“It taught me to appreciate more.”
For those who just had a transplant relax and enjoy it – attitude is important. “I am well! I am going to live!”
“You don’t have to feel guilty about receiving.” “It is an act of love, it is given freely.”
As Angela and I walk in the local park, she stops for a moment, leans over and with her eyes closed, smells some flowers. For me it feels like an eternity but as a transplant recipient myself, I understand. Moments like this matter. They cannot be rushed.
“I love flowers.”
As we continue our stroll across the park Angela ponders, “Even though I left my home and went on a big adventure to Canada, his love never stopped.” Then after a brief pause she adds, “It is the story of great love. If I learnt anything from my father and mother, it is exactly that – unconditional love!” At this moment, a bird flew over us and Angela watched it. She didn’t say a word but we both had the same thought.
Who knew that thirty-seven years after the war and his capture by Canadian soldiers, Hans would come to Canada to make an ultimate “act of love” – saving a Canadian life, his daughter’s life. Who knew the act of humanity in the midst of war would lead to an act of love beyond time and borders.
“Every moment, every year is a bonus.”
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