After years of trauma and pain, this B.C. man managed to stay positive and come out of serious illnesses that could have taken his life twice.
Darren Tom of Tl’azt’en Nation was 16 years old in 2010, when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. His mother, Charlene Tom, said Darren received chemotherapy for three years.
During the time, Darren was receiving chemotherapy, Tom said, he would come back to Fort St. James and go skating with his friends. She said his resilience and determination to stay alive really helped him.
However, things didn’t get better for her son because after the chemotherapy ended, he was diagnosed with Mycoplasma Pneumonia.
“The medication they gave him to save his life is what damaged his kidneys and his lungs were left damaged too,” Tom said.
So between 2014-2018 Darren had to undergo hemodialysis three days a week and became dependent on oxygen for more than four years and had to use it at home as well when he was not at the hospital.
In 2017, Darren was tested to see if his body could handle a double lung transplant and the result was positive, however, he needed a live kidney donor before the double lung transplant.
“Me and my husband and my husband’s family members began testing and my husband Fabian and his cousin Joshua Hallman were matches. Joshua was chosen. Josh sent me a text asking what Darren’s blood type was and after I told him, he said he had the same blood type and said Darren could have his kidneys in a heartbeat,” Tom said.
On June 1, 2017 his name was added to the lung transplant list and three days later, he received his first call and the family flew to Vancouver General Hospital, but were sent home because of complications, she said. Darren received his second call on June 23, 2017 and the doctor’s informed the family that the second set of lungs couldn’t be used, noting the doctor’s assured them that there was another donor.
Finally on June 25, 2017, Darren had a successful double lung transplant.
“Technically he could have died twice. Two different times in his life and he survived those and even the doctors couldn’t believe that he walked out of the hospital,” Tom said.
On April 5, 2018 Darren received Hallman’s kidney and both of them are doing well now.
“Life is never going to be easy. You are going to have your ups and downs. But you have to find that inner you and fight back,” Darren said. “Grab a hold of that pen and start writing your own story. I know I didn’t want to give up. It was too easy to do that. I wanted that challenge in life and I pushed through and fought back and overcame everything that has been thrown at me.”
And he did.
In Dec. 2018, Darren completed a four-day FitNation program in Vancouver and came back home to start an eight-week program on Jan 22, 2019.
FitNation was launched in 2013 and is an initiative under the Aboriginal Healthy Living Activities banner. The program encompasses dynamic stretching exercises that are adaptable to any fitness level. This workout is designated to increase physical activity in Indigenous communities and Friendship Centres across B.C.
Darren ran the program from Jan. 22 until March 14.
“His passion for training and living a healthy lifestyle is key to his survival and determination to live. Our family may never know the lung donor’s name or family members but they are forever in our hearts. We are also thankful to the doctor’s and nurses and the community members of Tl’azt’en Nation for all their support through fundraising and prayers when we needed it the most,” Tom said.
He has had various complications through this time and is blind in his left eye as well, she said. It all happened one after the other, Tom said, noting that prayers from his grandparents and support from the family kept him going.
For people struggling, Darren said, “I am just a normal person as you are, but you are also amazing and have some real potential in you. And don’t be afraid to fail, jut got to keep going even if you run into failure again because in the end we all succeed. Remember to believe in yourself, because I believe in you.”