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Cape Breton native living his best life after kidney transplant
SYDNEY -- His search for a kidney captured hearts across the country, and now, a Cape Breton native is back doing what he loves most.
Hockey coach Stephen Gillis is back behind the bench after undergoing a successful kidney transplant last week.
"It's a privilege to have someone do this for you and, yeah, it's just a lot to take in," Gillis said.
It all started with a plea that went viral as his players asked for someone to donate a kidney to their coach.
Then, after finding his donor match, it turned out it was someone he already knew.
"He was always a great guy," Gillis said of donor Michael Teigen. "But that was the last person I ever thought was going to come in to the hospital that day and tell me, 'hey, I'm your match.'"
Gillis and Teigen are both on the mend and feeling better after the transplant.
"From the moment I woke up, I was one kidney shy, but I'm bouncing back quickly too," Teigen said.
Gillis is discovering that some of the best things about his new life are the little things.
"I had my first shower in over a year, cuz I had a catheter for my hemodialysis," Gillis said. "Best shower of my life!"
Gillis hasn't lived in Cape Breton for nearly 20 years, but he still has close connections to home.
When it came time to have his life-changing operation, one longtime friend surprised him by flying from the East Coast to the West Coast to be there with him.
"My wife came down the Sunday before and said, 'you gotta go there," said Keith Gillis. "'You have to be there,' and she handed me the tickets for the flight."
Stephen was surprised to see his buddy after his surgery.
"I hadn't seen him in about six years," said Stephen Gillis.
Seeing his friend post-surgery was well worth the trip.
"He was pretty pumped that he had a new kidney and that it was working already," said Keith Gillis.
Now that he's on the mend, Gillis vows to continue advocating for organ donation, especially after seeing so many people wait – and wait.
And, he says, the bond between donor and recipient is one that will last a lifetime.
"I look at him like a big brother, a best friend," Stephen Gillis said. "Like, I'll do anything for him for the rest of his life."