Brothers in blue, bonded by blood

News / Renal and Dialysis Care
By John Pereira

OPP officers Darren Miller and John Hill now connected for life through KHSC’s living kidney donor program

Retired Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer John Hill is a passionate man. He cares deeply for his friends and family. He believes in the positive impact policing can have on communities. As a status member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, he also speaks lovingly about his culture and heritage.

“In part I went into policing to help bridge the gap between police and indigenous communities,” says Hill. “I loved connecting with people that needed help. Being aboriginal myself, a lot of my work was focused on those communities. I served not only as a crisis hostage negotiator, but also in the Aboriginal Policing Bureau to train other officers and to assist in administering police work on First Nation reserves across the province.”

Towards the end of his career, Hill’s health began to deteriorate due to an illness that’s all too common amongst the indigenous community.

“I have struggled with diabetes for years, but about three years ago I started really feeling sluggish. My doctor had been keeping an eye on me, but I was referred to a specialist in Belleville, who then referred me to the nephrology (kidney care) team in Kingston.

At that time I was told I had only seven per cent function left in my kidneys and was started on dialysis right away. A number of people in my family also received dialysis treatments, so I knew what to expect.”

As his condition progressed, Hill made the decision to retire early from his role with the OPP’s Madoc detachment. It was at his retirement function that he had an unexpected conversation that changed his life.

“My supervisor Sergeant Darren Miller pulled me aside and said ‘if it ever gets to the point that you need a kidney let me know and I’ll get tested to see if I can donate’,” recalled Hill. “I was surprised when he offered. He was my supervisor and we became friends almost immediately, but I hadn’t known him that long. I was beside myself when he offered because I hadn’t thought of a transplant. So when I got the green light that I was a candidate for a transplant I reached out to him to ask if he was serious and he said yes.”

It was a ‘no-brainer’

Sergeant Miller has policing in his blood. Originally from the northern Ontario town of Matheson, his father was an OPP officer who was tragically shot and killed in the line of duty 1984 when Darren was just nine years old. Seeing how his father’s colleagues at the OPP, as well as how the community rallied around his family, helped shape him at that young age.

“There was no other interest other than working in policing,” says Miller. “It was always what I wanted to do ever since I was small. Everyone who goes into policing says the same thing, they have an instinctual desire to help people.”

So when he saw Hill that day at the retirement luncheon he wanted to help. It was a spur-of-the-moment, life-changing offer.

“I had signed my license to be an organ donor, but I had never thought about a living donation for a kidney. I was at the lunch and just looked at him and felt so bad, because he was such a kind, funny, positive guy. After I made the offer I just had a weird feeling that this was going to happen,” says Miller.

His gut feeling was correct, after comprehensive testing by the team at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, it was determined they were indeed a match.

A year-long journey to the Operating Room

All told, it took about a year from when Hill was declared a candidate for transplant until the surgery date on August 19, 2020. The process was slowed a bit by the Covid 19 pandemic, along with other complicating health issues that Hill’s team needed to navigate.

“In the process of going through the testing to see if we could do the transplant, they found I had four blocked arteries in my heart,” says Hill. “So even just the process of being tested for the transplant saved my life. I had quadruple bypass surgery in December and was healthy enough to go ahead with the transplant by the summer.”

During that period of time Miller was also going through comprehensive testing.

“Talk about great staff at every step of the journey at KHSC. Everyone was so wonderful and kind and worked really hard to keep me safe,” says Miller. “They ran all kinds of test to determine if it was safe on every level. People seem to think it was a big sacrifice, but it wasn’t to me. I didn’t feel like this was risky because I couldn’t have been in better hands.

It was a very informed decision and I didn’t feel concerned that they would go ahead if it wasn’t safe. The surgeons are passionate for their patients, talented and confident. My Nephrologist, Dr. Shamseddin was amazing. The whole team earns your trust immediately when you speak with them, they are all top notch people.”

The big day arrives

It’s the morning of August 19, and after a week of Covid isolation Miller makes his way from his home in Stittsville to KHSC’s Kingston General Hospital site for the surgery.

“The day of the surgery I was just pumped, like a horse waiting to get out of the gate,” says Miller whose kidney was removed laprascopically that morning. “I went in for surgery and I was discharged 24 hours later.”

Hill’s surgery, meanwhile was a little more extensive and required a longer stay in hospital.

“My birthday was only a couple of days after my surgery and when I left my room for some testing, the nursing staff surprised me by decorating for my birthday. They also made sure I was able to get a small piece of cake with my dinner,” says Hill. “The entire team was so amazing.”

On the road to recovery

Despite some other ongoing challenges, eight months post-transplant, Hill reports that he is feeling well and enjoying his retirement, having just bought a new fifth-wheel that he fully plans to enjoy this summer.

“I’m feeling awesome with the new kidney,” says Hill. “From day one it worked extremely well. That kidney was bionic.”

Miller meanwhile, is back at work at the OPP’s East Region Headquarters in Smiths Falls.

“After a few months, I couldn’t tell a difference in my health. I didn’t experience fatigue, and am feeling great, no side effects,” he says. “As crazy as it sounds to some people, it’s been a fun experience and the fact I was able to help someone, what’s more satisfying than that? I’m proof that this can happen and not change your life one bit.”

The two remain close, keeping in touch with each other throughout the pandemic by texting and calling on a weekly basis.

“We laugh constantly, it’s a bond for life between the two of us now,” says Miller. “If I had three kidneys I would do it again. He needed it and I think the world of the guy so I gave him my spare.”

If you’re interested in learning more about living kidney donations at KHSC, or would like to consider making a donation, please contact our Donor Coordinator at 613-549-6666 ext. 7112.