Matt Hassen, left, who has Type 1 diabetes will receive one of Josh Hackett’s kidney’s on November 8. The two worked together only two months when Hackett offered to be tested to see if he was a match. Submitted photo

Serving up the gift of life

South Okanagan hospitality worker receiving kidney from former coworker

The story of two South Okanagan men and a kidney is a serving of the best of the human spirit.

Matt Hassen, 37, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of seven. Although the well-known South Okanagan hospitality employee works to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, the impact on his kidneys started to become debilitating two years ago.

“Things started to go downhill. They told me my kidney function was down to about 14 per cent. I needed to start looking at doing dialysis but that mostly what we needed was to find someone who would be able to donate a kidney,” Hassen said Thursday.

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After spending a few weeks wrapping his mind around his health condition, Hassen started telling fellow coworkers and friends he needed a new kidney last September.

“It was remarkable, 11 or 12 people stepped up and said they would like to be tested to see if they matched up,” he said. “As a human being it’s very humbling to hear that people would like to donate.”

One of those people was new coworker Josh Hackett, 24. The pair became fast friends while working at Kraft Corner Kitchen in Penticton as Hassen taught Hackett the ins and outs of bartending.

It would be a few months of testing before Hackett was confirmed as a match.

“When people ask, ‘how do you feel?’ I don’t really know how to answer that question. It’s completely selfless what he’s doing. I knew him for two months. There are really good people out there.”

The match couldn’t come at a better time. Hassen has managed to keep himself healthy enough not to need dialysis but his kidney function is under 10 per cent now.

Surgery is scheduled for Nov. 8 at Vancouver General Hospital.

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Hassen will be in hospital for about two weeks following the surgery and is required to live in Vancouver so daily testing can be completed. Rejection medication levels need to be monitored for at least two months. Full recovery isn’t expected for about a year because of his diabetes will slow the process.

Hackett, who now works at Canada Post, will be in hospital for about three weeks.

With finding a match behind him, Hassen’s focus is turning to how he will manage being off work while he recovers.

He will not be able to work for at least seven months.

“I’ve been very tired. My kidneys have been on the decline for the last five or six years, but I still work. I’m very tired. It’s very energy draining,” he said. “I won’t be able to work at all for quite awhile, so now I’m trying to figure out how I will survive during recovery. I work in the hospitality industry and we don’t have benefits, there’s no union, there’s no safety net when something like this happens.”

Current employer the Owl Pub in Osoyoos is holding a fundraiser Oct. 14 starting at 6 p.m.

Tickets, available at Owl Pub, are $20 and include entry, burger and a beer along with the opportunity to win various prize draws.

Money raised through the fundraiser will be matched by the B.C. Hospitality Foundation up to $5,000.

The hospitality foundation is a charity that raises funds to support people in the hospitality industry that face financial crisis due to health issues.

“The fundraiser is going to be great. They’re going to match dollar for dollar. The bartending community and hospitality community in the South Okanagan is great. We’re a tight-knit group.”

A GoFundMe page has been setup for those that can’t attend the fundraiser or who would like to donate more. As of Thursday afternoon $2,765 had been raised.

For those wanting to donate visit www.gofundme.com/matt-hassens-kidney-transplant.