by Allan MacDonald; photography by Brian Smith
In 2015, local business owner Andrew Burke made a $10,000 gift to support Dr. David Landsberg’s research in renal medicine at St. Paul’s. He also became a monthly donor in 2016, giving back to the hospital that helped him through a physically painful three years of treatment.
“I wanted to give monthly because it represents the long process Dr. Landsberg and I went through together during my treatment. It wasn’t a one-off thing, so I like the idea that every month I’m helping fund the incredible work being done at St. Paul’s.”
Andrew Burke first came to Canada from the UK in 2001 at the age of 21, on a one-year work visa. In that short time he says he fell in love with Canada, and decided to make a more permanent move.
But during a 2004 trip to England to visit family, Andrew felt sluggish and short of breath. Concerned, he saw a doctor, but was told it was likely just a minor infection.
Feeling bloated at the end of his trip, Andrew stepped on a scale to find he had gained 18 pounds in just two weeks. While he could feel the weight and the bloating, he didn’t know that his body was retaining fluids due to a serious problem with his kidney. During his flight back to Canada, the excess fluid went into Andrew’s legs, causing them to balloon to twice their regular size and bringing immense pain. At 30,000 feet above the Atlantic, all he could do was suffer.
Back in Vancouver, Andrew went immediately to a walk-in clinic, where within minutes he was redirected to St. Paul’s in an ambulance.
At the hospital, Dr. Landsberg, division head for the St. Paul’s Renal Program, performed a number of tests, including a kidney biopsy. The results showed a specific type of nephrotic syndrome that is more common in children and considered rare in adults.
It turns out Dr. Landsberg himself had suffered from a similar condition in childhood. “I can’t say it was the same for sure,” recalls Dr. Landsberg. “It was the early 1960s, I was seven years old. This was a time before kidney biopsies, which is the key diagnostic we use for such a condition today. So with no biopsy, I will never be 100 per cent sure of the condition I had.”
“I felt a connection with Andrew because of our shared experience,” says Landsberg. “I felt the distress of the swelling that this condition can cause and I had experienced the side effects of the treatment – heavy doses of steroids.”
Thanks to medical advancement, Andrew was provided medicine with lower steroids, translating to few side effects and a more permanent response to treatment.
Over the course of three and a half years Andrew received treatment, though at times perceived successes were followed by relapses. During those times, Andrew says his weight would balloon from 200 to 260 pounds.
“I wasn’t doing very well,” says Andrew. “I was yound, I didn’t have much money, I wasn’t able to work, and I didn’t have any family here.” Although Andrew was alone in that respect, he always felt that Dr. Landsberg went above and beyond for him. “He was more than just a doctor. He became a very special and significant presence in my life. At the end of the day, I feel that I am here because of him.”
To donate to St. Paul’s in support of life-saving kidney research and care, visit helpstpauls.com.