Trudy Burdess and Carolyn Bartsch

Kidney transplant recipient and donor to run Klondike Road Relay

April 20th, 2016

Their team, “Spare Parts,” to raise awareness, funds for organ donation

Combined, your kidneys weigh around ten ounces; when Trudy Burdess had her kidneys removed, they weighed ten pounds, the result of polycystic kidney disease.

When kidney disease patients speak of the pain they experience, this is often a cause: enlarged kidneys pushing against other organs and other parts of your body’s internal structure.

“Some days I would feel pressure on my lungs and it would be hard to breathe,” says Trudy. “Back pain was a constant.”

Fortunately, Trudy had a successful kidney transplant at St. Paul’s in 2015. Doubly fortunate, Trudy had a living kidney donor in her cousin, Carolyn Bartsch.

“We’re more like sisters.” says Carolyn, of her relationship with Trudy. “The day Trudy said, ‘Well, I’m on the list,’ meaning the waiting list to receive a kidney, which we knew could take years, I made my decision. I wanted to donate a kidney to Trudy. I know she would do the same for me.”

Without Carolyn’s noble act, Trudy’s options would have been limited. To receive a kidney from a deceased donor could take as long as eight years. Trudy’s kidneys would not last that long, not even close: at the time of her transplant, her kidney function was already less than 15% and only getting worse. Once her kidneys failed, dialysis would be Trudy’s only option.

Trudy, who lives in Whitehorse, consulted with her GP about how to best proceed with her transplant. Trudy’s GP suggested St. Paul’s and offered to make Trudy an appointment with St. Paul’s nephrologist Dr. Paul Taylor. Trudy agreed with her GP and an appointment was made.

When Trudy met with Dr. Taylor, it was a moment of transformative change.

A new outlook

“I had been feeling so down,” says Trudy. “The prognoses I’d been hearing had been pretty depressing. How my life would not be the same. But with Dr. Taylor, it was like the opposite. His prognosis was so much brighter. He focused on my good health, the fact that I took care of myself, and how that would help me. He made me feel so much better!

Less than three months after meeting Dr. Taylor, Trudy had a successful transplant at St. Paul’s. She recalls waking up, post- procedure, and realizing immediately that the pain she had endured for so many years was gone.

“Just like that,” she says. “It was gone. It was amazing.”

For Carolyn, whose own procedure as kidney donor was also a success, the moment moved her beyond words.

“I had seen Trudy in such pain for such a long time,” says Carolyn. “So on that day, when she said the pain was gone, I can’t put into words how it made me feel. I wish I could describe how wonderful it was.”

Today, Trudy is training for the annual Klondike Road Relay, a weekend long race held each September in the Yukon. A lifelong outdoorsperson, Trudy had run the race many times over the years until her kidney disease had made such activities impossible.

Carolyn is running the race alongside Trudy, as a team that Trudy’s daughter, Chelsey, cheekily named “Spare Parts” in honour of their mission: to raise funds for the renal program at St. Paul’s and to generate awareness for organ donation.

“If people only knew the difference they could make, the lives they could improve and even save,” says Carolyn. “If more people would donate their organs at the end of their life, that waiting list for a kidney would be a lot shorter. So we thought the Klondike Road Relay would be a great opportunity to raise some awareness around this issue.”

Staged each September, the Klondike Road Relay begins in Alaska and follows the trail of the Gold Rush Stampeders into BC and the Yukon. The race, which takes place over a single weekend,  is known for its breathtaking scenery and northern hospitality.

And while Trudy’s thoughts are on the race, she says that her thoughts will always be with her cousin and best friend, Carolyn Bartsch, who she sees as a hero.

“People who have kidney disease or experience kidney failure, we don’t choose this,” says Trudy. “It is something that happens and we must bear it. We don’t have a choice. But someone who donates an organ does have a choice. And to make the choice to donate an organ to save a life, as Carolyn did, is a selfless act of love. In all of this, it is Carolyn who is the real hero.”

Would you like to cheer on Trudy and Carolyn? The best way to do that is to make a donation right now to their team, “Spare Parts,” by visiting