Ontario – Three years ago and nearing the end of his OPP career, Constable John Hill began experiencing kidney failure. To John, a member of the Mohawk First Nations, it was somewhat expected as he was diabetic and both diabetes and kidney disease were prevalent in his family. Diabetes is also widespread amongst the Indigenous community. According to Diabetes Canada, the prevalence rates for diabetes are 17.2 per cent for First Nations individuals living on-reserve and 10.3 per cent for those individuals living off-reserve, compared to five per cent in the general population. The first step in managing his kidney failure was self-administered dialysis.
John began peritoneal dialysis at home, which involved hooking himself up to a machine with two dialysis solutions, which entered his stomach each night. Dialysis takes the role of the kidneys by removing waste products and excess fluids to keep the body in balance. John explains the process: ‘It was five bags a night and I was on the dialysis unit for ten and a half hours every night. The reason you need dialysis is the buildup of toxins, creatinine. The medical staff measured mine in the hospital, which was well over 1200 mL/min.’ The process left little freedom for a personal life or traveling.
In early 2019, due to his deteriorating health, John’s career at the OPP came to an end. His supervisor at the time, Sergeant Darren Miller, was at his retirement party and pulled John aside. Darren felt compelled to make an unexpected offer to his colleague. He explains:
‘There’s funny things that happen in this world. I saw him at his retirement and I thought the world of John. I have never in my life considered organ donation, but I had this overwhelming instinct to say, ‘If you ever need a kidney, you can have one of mine.’ As soon as I said it, I knew it was meant to be and was going to happen.’
Sgt. Darren Miller, currently the Supervisor/Regional Coordinator for the East Region Frontline Support Unit and the Executive Officer for the East Region Command Staff, first joined the OPP in 1998. Starting out at the OPP Temiskaming Detachment and working his way into the Crime Unit, he successfully competed for a position within the Behavioural Sciences Section as a Polygraph Examiner and was promoted to Detective Sergeant in 2007. In November 2015, Darren was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and took time off work for treatment. Darren explains the impact of police work. ‘I worked many positions in the OPP and many of these were high stress on my family and myself. Just like many other officers, I was exposed to the very ugly sides of society. Eventually, this caught up to me and left me a little broken.’ He completed the eight week PTSD Recovery Program in addition to further therapy and treatment before returning to the OPP in September 2017.
Retired Cst. John Hill started his OPP career in 1988 through the OPP Indian Special Constable program and was first posted at Big Trout Lake First Nations. A crisis negotiator for 12 years, John’s career took him around Ontario, including to the Napanee Detachment, Grassy Narrow Reserve, Sharbot Lake, Sioux Lookout-Northwest Patrol, Prince Edward Detachment and to the Indigenous Policing Bureau. Spending the majority of his career as a local and provincial Aboriginal liaison officer, John demonstrated his commitment to improving police services and human rights of Indigenous peoples in Ontario. This commitment was only reaffirmed when he took a job at the First Nations Technical Institute as their Justice Coordinator for the Indigenous Peoples in the reserve and the local area in October 2019. As John explains it, he went back ‘to help the community. In my current job, my team and I support Indigenous individuals to help them navigate the criminal court system. I want to create real change for my people.’
Surgery Day and the Future
When Darren proposed donating his kidney, it did not happen right away. It was only when it came to the point where a transplant seemed to be the only option that John called upon his friend to take him up on his offer. ‘John and I had been quietly getting poked, prodded, scanned, X-rayed, given ECGs [electrocardiogram] and tons of blood and urine analysis for about a year in preparation. I knew all along that we’d be a match – we both bleed blue,’ Darren explains with a laugh. Tests confirmed they were compatible, with a 10/12 match. Though most kidney transplants do not take a year, John and Darren’s journey presented some challenges.
The first hurdle had nothing to do with John’s kidney, rather it was his heart. During the initial tests, doctors found he had a heart condition that could not be ignored. It explained his constant fatigue, which he had previously attributed to his kidney failure. The donation process was paused in order to address John’s heart concerns. On December 31, 2019, John underwent quadruple bypass surgery at the Kingston General Hospital (KGH). Four weeks later, he was back at work and the kidney donation tests continued. ‘I later found out I should have stayed a little longer, but I wanted to get back to work. I like staying busy,’ he says, chuckling.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ontario and non-essential surgeries were canceled or deferred. It was not until Ontario entered Phase 3 that the surgery was able to be scheduled for August 19. Darren went in for surgery in the morning and two and a half hours later, his left kidney was successfully removed. A few hours later, John’s surgery was completed and both men began their recoveries. ‘I don’t think I will ever be able to replace this feeling of satisfaction that I have right now. This satisfying happiness that it went well and it was all worth it. Everything works like it’s meant to be. I don’t remember feeling this good before and I don’t think I ever will again,’ Darren explains two days post-surgery.
Three days later, Darren was walking around his neighborhood and a few days after, John was preparing to return home. When asked the reason behind his donation, Darren replies, ‘I have been supported by the OPP since the day I was born. I learned throughout my childhood that OPP members are one big family and we support each other through everything, even the toughest of times. When my dad was shot when I was nine years-old, I experienced support that was beyond words.’ Darren’s father, Constable Vernon Miller, was an OPP officer with the Matheson Detachment for 17 years before his death. On November 16, 1984, he was shot and killed in a coffee shop in Porquis Junction. Darren explains why this act of profound kindness came so easily to him:
‘As a police officer, we are willing to sacrifice our lives for a total stranger. So when you look at a great guy like John, and what he’s going through, it’s a no brainer for me. He’s like a brother to me, just like all of our officers and police civilians are a family. We have to look after each other; this is just what we do. The risks were minimal with huge benefits for John. The man is a legend in my mind. One of the kindest, most positive, hard-working and compassionate people I have ever met. The longer he stays on this earth, the better it is for everyone. So I’ve done my part to ensure he stays around for as long as possible.’
Nearly a month after his surgery, John is improving and feels better each day. ‘I am going on walks, sleeping well and feeling great. The hospital staff checked my creatinine levels and they’re at an 80 mL/min, which is so different when compared with 1200 mL/min before the surgery. I do get tired easily, but that is expected.’ John will continue with his regular scheduled appointments until he is back to his full capacity. He is thankful for his colleagues’ support, including his former colleagues who have driven him to appointments or stopped by for a visit, and those from the OPP and OPPA who have sent him well wishes. John also thanks the staff at KGH for the support. ‘They were an incredible team – very informative, sensitive to people’s feelings and they work with the patient. They do and did a great job. I am incredibly grateful.’
Back home, John describes the stark difference pre and post-surgery. ‘Now I can go away as long as I want, wherever I want and not worry. Darren gave me my personal life and freedom. He is an amazing man.’ For John, freedom means taking his newly bought camper van across the country and traveling to Scotland to see his grandson get married next year. John and Darren continue to speak daily.
Find out more information on kidney donation at The Kidney Foundation of Canada.
Ontario Provincial Police
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