The Kidney Foundation of Canada

Kidney Stories

Dr. Ken Hughes

Dr. Ken Hughes’ involvement with The Kidney Foundation began in the 1960s when he first experienced kidney failure and started dialysis. From 1985 to 1986, he was  National President of The Kidney Foundation and in 1990 he wedded Nancy Hughes, with whom he canvassed every March for The Kidney Foundation’s annual fundraising drive while they lived in Winnipeg. Both Ken and Nancy Hughes continued to canvass for The Kidney Foundation once they moved to Goderich, Ontario.  Dr. Ken Hughes is now 78 years old and in October 2011, he will celebrate 36 years of living with a successful kidney transplant made possible by a living organ donation from his youngest sister, Laurelle.

Dr. Hughes with his sister Laurelle in 2010, celebrating
the 35th anniversary of his transplant

The symptoms of kidney disease are most often silent, yet Dr. Ken Hughes first became aware of his kidney problems when he developed swollen ankles as a teenager. In the mid-1950s, when he was in his early twenties and had just completed a M.A. at the University of Manitoba, his doctor advised him his kidneys were failing and that the prognosis was poor. After exhausting all treatment options, and not wanting to burden his  family, he left Canada and traveled to Jamaica, where he felt he would at least be warm. 

One day, while reading an American magazine, he noticed an article written by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, a Patron of the American Kidney Foundation. The article described ongoing research in the United States. Ken wrote a letter to Mrs. Eisenhower, and shortly thereafter received a reply from renal specialists at a Chicago hospital who offered Ken the position of "guinea pig" for research.  Ken had also been accepted for the PhD programme at the University of Chicago. Together, these developments proved a golden opportunity. He spent several months in the hospital working with doctors, and was well enough to enter the University of Chicago during the fall term.  Upon completion of a doctorate degree, he returned to Winnipeg where he was employed as a professor of physiology at the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Ken Hughes with his wife at the 2011 KFOC Annual Meeting
Dr. Ken Hugues and his wife Nancy at 2011 Kidney Foundation of Canada event

Dr. Hughes became involved with The Kidney Foundation in the 1960s when his kidneys failed and he had no choice but to dialyze. His dialysis sessions occurred three times a week for 8 to 9 hours per sitting and he was helped by a dialysis nurse. Since he worked in a medical setting, the dialysis unit was close to his office, and his secretary would sit with him at the machine while he dictated letters attending to the office mail.  Over the next ten years, however, the kidney disease progressed. In the fall of 1974, it became clear that the dialysis would not keep up with his needs and a transplant was planned. After extensive testing, Ken's younger sister, Laurelle, proved an almost perfect match. A seven hour surgery was done at the Winnipeg General Hospital (now Health Sciences) with Dr. Ashley Thomson as the lead surgeon.  Two weeks later, Ken and Laurelle left the hospital together and neither has ever looked back.

“Ken feels that there is no way that he would ever be able to do enough to assist The Kidney Foundation,” says wife and Kidney Foundation volunteer, Nancy Hughes. “But as for his donor sister, how could anyone repay another person for giving them their life back?  It is just not possible. Every day is a new day for which we both are thankful. Ken is 78 now, and often, he feels his age, but it is an age which he never dreamt of attaining.  That first contact with The Kidney Foundation in the early 1960s has changed his life, and has ultimately given him a life.”

At present, Dr. Ken Hughes is enjoying a granddaughter and a grandson who live in Winnipeg.