Parksville pal Donates the gift of life

Local pair show the true nature of friendship with kidney donation

Janet Ovington and Rick Barber are encouraging people across the region to sign up as organ donors.

Janet Ovington and Rick Barber are encouraging people across the region to sign up as organ donors.

Janet Ovington spent six years slowly getting sicker as she languished on the kidney transplant list, or so she thought.

“I had hallucinations, I was itchy, couldn’t breath, I got the worst headaches ever and I was throwing up all the time. When puking becomes normal you know things aren’t right,” she said of her condition just a few months ago.

In December it turned out she may not have been on the right list the whole time and a specialist told her it could be another six years before she made it to the top of the list.

Many people die before they make it to the top of that list, including 82 in 2010.

That’s when her best friend Rick Barber stepped in and put his name on the living donor list, bumping Ovington up the list and helping two strangers along the way.

“I was watching her go down hill and I knew she couldn’t do six more years,” he said.

Barber wasn’t a direct match for his friend, but officials were able to work out a chain reaction of donations across the country.

In mid-May Barber flew to Montreal where his kidney was removed and given to an anonymous recipient. That recipient was in a similar position with a friend or relative willing to donate, but not a direct match, so they donated to another person, who’s partner donated the kidney that Ovington received in Vancouver the next day.

“They said three people got kidneys because of my choice,” Barber said, embarrassed by the attention. “I didn’t want any credit for it,” he said after The News convinced him to help tell their story.

Before the transplant Ovington was down to five per cent kidney function and was traveling to Nanaimo for four hours of dialysis four times a week.

Just six weeks later she is up to 84 per cent function, walking up the Moilliet hill and has started back at work, despite originally being told it could take four to six months.

Fighting going stir crazy, she is happy her doctor signed off on her early return to work the Parksville McDonald’s.

While Barber’s kidney boosted Ovington’s energy and health, the loss of his kidney dropped him down a couple levels.

His kidney function level hasn’t been checked recently, but he said he feels like he’s getting close to fully recovered. Donors’ remaining kidney “picks up it’s socks and steps up,” as Barber described it, usually getting up to about 75 per cent of their previous overall function.

That doesn’t phase him in the least, “for what it cost me it was well worth it to help my best friend,” he said.

While live donation is a serious and complex choice, they both urge everyone to register as an organ donor for when people are done with their organs.

For more on kidney disease check The Kidney Foundation of Canada which Ovington and Barber both said was incredibly helpful and supportive, at

To register as a donor visit or pick up the forms at Drivers Service Centres, ICBC brokers, most doctor’s offices and pharmacies, Overwaitea and Save On Foods.