The tree was voted Best Overall Non-Profit in the 2018 Waterfront Winter Village planter contest. The tree itself was a transplant after they removed the original real tree to replace it with a bigger artificial one. Photo Submitted.

Sylvan Lake’s Winter Village planter contest helps spread awareness

March is Polycystic Kidney Disease Awareness month

The winner of Best Overall Non-Profit in the planter contest with the 2018 Waterfront Winter Village has a very personal touch behind its tree.

Sylvan Lakes’ Rosalie Thon, and her friends, Evan Masse, Trish Jenks and her son Clayton William, designed the planter for kidney disease and transplant awareness.

Thon has Polycystic Kidney Disease and spent four years doing dialysis while waiting to get a new kidney.

She did a battery of tests and had four calls before her kidney came Sept. 21, 2017.

“In that part of my journey I met Evan [Masse], he was my roommate [in the hospital] and he as well had a kidney transplant, and so we just became really good friends and when the planter came up I just thought I wanted to give something back,” said Thon in an interview, adding she has learned a lot throughout her journey.

Masse lives north of Edmonton, but made the trip down to help decorate the tree.

“I know for a fact a lot of people don’t know a lot about kidney disease and/or transplant, so I thought what a better opportunity than to take advantage of this tree,” explained Thon.

The blue and green colouring of the tree was inspired by the colours of The Kidney Foundation of Canada and was decorated with kidney shaped stress balls and cards with ribbon pins for awareness.

“Rosalie and I decided to give people awareness of donating organs, it is a lifesaver for people even though it is sad that some people have to sacrifice their life to save other people,” said Masse in a letter, adding he is thankful for all the people who donate.

Decorating the tree was a two-day project and represented transplant awareness right down to its roots after they removed the original little tree to transplant in an artificial one.

The Kidney Foundation of Canada, Northern Alberta and The Territories branch in Edmonton donated the stress kidneys and cards to use as decorations.

This was the group’s first time entering a planter in the competition and is very proud to have been voted number one in their category.

Thon says when she sets out to do something she always wants to be a high achiever, so she told the group she wanted to win.

“I wanted to win not out of arrogance, but just to get the story out even more,” said Thon, adding she also likes being creative.

Thon and Masse used the lighting ceremony and the planter along the lakeshore throughout the winter as a talking point to help raise awareness, knowledge and share their story.

She said it was exciting to be able to make connections with people and spread the word about kidney disease and transplant.

Since polycystic is hereditary her son, Clayton William, also has polycystic kidneys.

Thon explained hers started with a 2.5 cm cyst, which took 20 years to almost completely shut down her kidney function, so it is hard to tell when William will need to go through the dialysis and transplant procedure.

“What they do is they end up taking over both of your kidneys and they’re just big and gross and ugly and once you lose kidney function you end up on dialysis,” said Thon. “It runs in my dad’s side, so I’ve got other relatives that have dealt with it and not everyone gets it, just certain ones.”

Masse needed a new kidney due to unexplained scarring and received his transplant Sept. 25, 2017, while Jenks was helping out on behalf of her husband, Bill, who is still doing dialysis.

The one thing the group has in common is the journey of waiting for a new kidney.

There is no guarantee as to when someone will get a kidney unless they have someone to be a live donor, as people can live with only one kidney.

“We call ourselves ‘warriors’ because we push through all this stuff,” said Thon of the dialysis three or four times a week and the intensive regiment of tests to get a transplant.

Thon explained getting a kidney is not a cure-all; there is still a chance of rejection, infection as well as having to live a healthy lifestyle and live by a certain diet.

In her case, she ended up with bacteria in her body, which left her in the hospital for a month in February, and diabetes.

Thon is now at the stage of picking up her life after the disruption the dialysis and transplant had.

“I do it to give back because I know what it’s like to be the newbie on the block, so I just want to help other people with their transition on their new journey that they haven’t chosen,” said Thon, adding sometimes the more you know the less fear you have of the unknown.

She explained even though people may look fine on the outside, there may be a lot going on the inside.

“Chronic illness takes people down… [and] it can happen to anybody,” added Thon.

Masse said in his letter he and Thon plan on entering another tree in the planter contest next year after the response they received this past year.

March is Polycystic Kidney Disease Awareness month.

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