For Don and Ruby Gaudet of Tignish, just knowing they’ve been able to help so many Islanders affected by kidney disease is enough for them.
The couple are this year’s recipients of the David Ornstein Distinguished Service Award from the Kidney Foundation of Canada, for their fundraising efforts in the form of an annual snowmobile and ATV poker run. Over the years, the poker run has raised roughly $80,000 for the foundation in memory of their son, Don Jr.
“Don was a very kind person, he loved old people,” recalled Ms Gaudet. “He was very active. He always loved sports.”
At the age of five, Don Jr was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells, and can develop at any age. Because of his aplastic anemia, a kidney transplant wasn’t a possibility. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 20 due to kidney failure. The couple began the poker run in 1991, and have continued to do so every winter since.
Ms Gaudet said along with a love of sports, Don Jr was very smart, and could have potentially been a doctor.
“When he first started dialysis, it was the big machine with the blood that goes through,” she explained. “He conquered that machine (figuring the ins and outs of it) in a week. A nurse in Halifax told me it would take a person three, maybe four weeks to learn. He knew that machine.”
The award the Gaudets are receiving was established in the honour of the late David Ornstein, one of the founding members of the Kidney Foundation of Canada. It’s presented to a volunteer or volunteers for meriting special recognition for their work toward the significant growth, development or increased public recognition of the Kidney Foundation of Canada in a specific region at the province or branch level.
Funds raised help Islanders and their families facing chronic kidney disease. Along with funding research to finding a cure for kidney disease, the Kidney Foundation of Canada focuses on providing emotional support for people with kidney disease, offering peer support programs, short-term financial assistance when needed, promoting access to quality healthcare, and increasing public awareness about kidney health and organ donation.
“The funds raised by individuals like Don and Ruby certainly help with all of those things,” said Marlene Dorey, Development Officer of Kidney Foundation of Canada, Atlantic Branch. “To have volunteers like them involved with the Kidney Foundation for 28 years is quite outstanding. Personally, I felt it was really heartwarming to see the community of Tignish rally around the Gaudet family every year to support a cause that’s so close to their heart that impacts so many people in the community.”
The 2020 poker run proved to be a record year in the history of the event, with over 250 people taking part, and over $4,500 raised. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gaudets decided not to host the poker run this year, but are hoping to do something in the future.
“We just can’t thank the community enough, it’s hard to know how to put it into words,” Ms Gaudet concluded. “The community has been really good to us, and the surrounding communities. We’re hoping to find another way to do something. We’re not thinking too far ahead right now, we’ll take it day by day.”