This post is written by Katie, with great love and gratitude for her dad, Randy and the many things he inspired including WORTHY.
When I asked my dad what his retirement goals were back in February 2015, after 36 years in the RCMP, I was quite surprised and flattered that writing a play with me made the top of his list. He’d been a theatre attendee and volunteer for many years, was a talented amateur musician and wrote a column for the local paper in Fort Saskatchewan in his first year on the force, but he had never expressed interest in writing a play previously. He did not suggest we co-write this play inspired by his life - much too humble - but when he sent me that email (quoted last blog post) about being worthy of his kidney donation, WORTHY charged into my head and has refused to leave ever since.
As you are going to be be with us for this quest, there is some family history you should know:
Constable Randy Leamen of the RCMP, was shot in the abdomen while on duty in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta on March 15th 1980. Some doctors believe that trauma to the area lead to kidney disease 3 years later. Randy moved from Inuvik, NWT back to Newmarket, Ontario to be near family and healthcare facilities in Toronto. When I was two and half, Dad started hemodialysis on April 6th, 1988. Three times a week he went to Toronto General Hospital and each treatment took about 5 hours exclusive of travel time. After 6 weeks of commuting, he and my mom, Heather, trained to do hemodialysis at home (luckily Mom is a nurse). Dad received his transplant from an unknown donor on April 19th, 1990 at Toronto General Hospital. He had been on dialysis for 2 years and two weeks. It was almost exactly 10 years from shooting to transplant. Twenty-six years later in the fall of 2016, Dad was diagnosed with cancer - a known side effect of the anti-rejection medications he had to take for his transplant - and the intensity of chemo treatments in turn caused his transplanted kidney to start failing. After 27 years of freedom (average transplants lasting 10-15 years if they aren’t rejected), we were all devastated Dad needed life-saving dialysis once again. Even still, every day we looked for and celebrated the tiny signs that his kidney was still fighting valiantly to function right up until his passing on May 22, 2017. I can't remember exactly what he said, but there was one day near the end when Dad managed to pee just a tiny amount and he said victoriously something along the lines of, "See? It's still a good kidney." That was really important to him.
"When a new oncologist had read Randy's history and met him, he said empathetically, 'You haven't been been very lucky'. Randy smiled genuinely and trying to get the doctor to understand said, 'I feel I have been very lucky.'" - My mom reminiscing on Dad's outlook.
I was too young to understand what was happening before Dad got his transplant. I don’t know all the suffering he went through, the terror my mom felt or how that chaos subconsciously affected my older sister and me growing up in it. Having had a very small taste of the enormity that is dialysis treatments, I can’t believe how my parents managed it all with two small kids. During one of his dialysis treatments last year, Dad told me how he took us to the Ex when we were little after a similar treatment and the nurse told him he was crazy, he should be resting. He replied, “They are only this little for so long. I can’t wait till later.” I only have happy memories of my childhood which is a testament to my parents’ strength and calibre of family and friends that helped them. I do know the type of people my parents are, and the life values that they have passed on to me because of it. Maybe they would have been the same people without having gone through it all, but I feel deep down that I would not be the same person. The effects of Dad’s shooting and transplant are branded on my being.
Losing Dad is the worst. Continuing to write this story, without my co-writer, is awful and yet also a little awesome and cathartic as an important way to honour his legacy and to make organ donation personal to people who did not grow up with the same experiences I did (see video below). Like the main character Charlotte trying to prove her worthiness, I am also on a quest to be worthy of the gift that was my Dad's life. Kidney disease is an incurable and undiscriminating disease that affects over 2 million Canadians regardless of age, health, and ethnicity but receives little public and media attention. While this show will raise awareness of the disease and some of its effects, at its core, it is grappling with ideas and ideals that we all face, no matter our state of health: the journey of humanity – how we qualify and exemplify goodness, worthiness, and search to find answers of what our true purpose is. It is a play about serving others – something Randy Leamen really believed in.