Husband and wife Burt and Carole Gilman are an extremely devoted couple that recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They are so devoted, in fact, that Carole literally risked her own life in order to save Burt’s.
It was in the spring of 2002, at the age of 60, that Burt’s life began to unravel. Always very health-conscious, he went to the gym one day as part of his usual routine. On a whim, he decided to try out a pulse tracking device only to discover the machine wasn’t working. When he reported the problem he found out it wasn’t the device that was malfunctioning, it was him! Burt’s pulse was too irregular to register on the machine.
He went to the Royal Victoria Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and was soon fitted with a pacemaker, but his health problems didn’t stop there. Burt also had high levels of creatinine in his blood, which was affecting his kidneys. He was diagnosed with primary amyloidosis, a disease in which an excess of proteins in the body attach themselves to various organs and interfere with their normal functioning. In Burt’s case, the organs affected were his heart and kidney.
He received chemotherapy treatment to stabilize the condition, but his kidneys were still failing and he needed a transplant. Both of his sons were genetically compatible to donate an organ but Carole also turned out to be a match.
Without hesitation, Carole insisted on being the one to donate a kidney for her husband rather than having her sons put themselves at risk. After all, she and Burt were a team, and both of them would do anything for the other. When Burt fell ill, Carole shared in his distress and now she would have the opportunity to share in his recovery.
Thanks to Carole’s kidney, Burt’s blood pressure and creatinine levels have lowered, to a point even lower than before he fell ill. Carole’s gift to her husband has given Burt a new lease on life, and together, they want to raise awareness about live donor organ transplant and support the Transplant Department of the MUHC.
In February of 2017, the Gilmans held a fundraiser for their 50th anniversary. In lieu of gifts, they asked guests to make donations to the Transplant Department, as well as the smoking cessation program at the MUHC’s Montreal Chest Institute, where their son, Dr. Sean Gilman, works. “We have everything we need, including each other,” says Carole. “We didn’t want gifts for ourselves. We wanted the hospital to benefit from our efforts, the same way we benefitted from the excellent care of our doctors and nurses.”
Throughout his medical journey, Burt has maintained his optimism and sense of humour. “I’m on these anti-rejection drugs so my body doesn’t reject Carole’s kidney,” he says with a smile. “But I always say my body wouldn’t have the nerve to reject anything from my wife!”