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Kidney donation highlights close-knit nature of Canada's curling community

·4 min read
Charles Gagnon, shown at left, donated a kidney to fellow curler Adam Freilich, shown at right. (Photo submitted - image credit)
Charles Gagnon, shown at left, donated a kidney to fellow curler Adam Freilich, shown at right. (Photo submitted - image credit)

There is an unending amount of stories and anecdotes about the curling community in Canada and how — in many ways — it could be thought of as one big family.

Perhaps the story of curlers Adam Freilich and Charles Gagnon best exemplifies this.

Frielich, 28, is the third for Team Comeau out of New Brunswick. Gagnon, 49, is the lead for Team Lawton out of Quebec.

For years, the two have been competitors on the ice — but this past week they became lifelong teammates.

Freilich has been battling Stage 5 kidney failure for the last couple of years, desperately trying to find a donor. This past May, his team took to social media putting out the call for anyone who might be a match and able to donate a kidney.

Gagnon answered that call.

WATCH | Curler donates life-saving kidney to opponent:

On Tuesday, Freilich and Gagnon underwent successful kidney transplant surgery.

"It seems like a miracle," Freilich said from his hospital bed on CBC Sports' That Curling Show on Friday.

"I'm feeling great. It's been a few days and the doctors are all happy with how things are going."

Gagnon, already home and recovering, was also a guest on the show and was beaming as he listened to Freilich.

"Adam has said thank you a million times and I don't know how to reply to that because all I can say is it's the right thing to do. It just felt like the right thing to do," Gagnon said.

Frielich says when Gagnon initially reached out he was in disbelief that this could actually happen.

"I didn't quite believe him. I thought it was some sick prank at first because it's been almost two years of friends and family getting tested and coming so close with nothing working out," Frielich said.

He says in March 2020 he first started noticing symptoms — itchy skin, fatigue, muscle cramps were plaguing him. Frielich says he thought it was allergies. It turned out to be Stage 5 kidney failure.

'A silent disease'

"For kidney diseases, it's about one in 10 people who suffer from it in Canada. So it does affect a lot of people," Freilich said.

"It's actually a silent disease. People only start getting symptoms when they're under 50 per cent functioning."

He was down to just 15 per cent.

But Gagnon stepped up.

"Something Adam won't tell you is he should have been in dialysis a long time ago. He's been fighting hard. It was nice to be able to do something for someone who has such a bright future," Gagnon said.

"Way back when I was going to school I was working in a warehouse and if you can believe it I was delivering things to people who were on dialysis. I saw first-hand what people go through. So to be able to put that off and do something for Adam was pretty important to me."

It was an emotional meeting when they finally arrived at the hospital to prepare for their surgeries.

"I ran and gave him a big hug when we finally saw each other at the hospital. It was just unbelievable that it was actually happening," Frielich said.

WATCH | That Curling Show:

Gagnon had spent the last number of months preparing for the surgery and getting his health in peak condition.

"I'm a little older than Adam; well, a lot older than Adam," Gagnon said.

"If I can put something positive out there, if you want to call it karma, then great. It's something I could do."

On Tuesday, Freilich got the call Gagnon's surgery was successful and it was his time to go under the knife. He posted a video of himself being wheeled down the hospital hallway on a stretcher with family by his side and the Rocky theme song playing.

"I just had tears in my eyes," Freilich said. "The surgeon told me that when I actually woke up from surgery the first thing I said was 'Is this real?'

"It's real. I have a kidney. And then I said, 'Let's celebrate and party.'"

It'll be a number of weeks before the two can get back on the ice and resume their curling battles with their teams.

"We were joking about an event in Oakville (Ont.) this weekend and that he should come pick me up because he's already out of the hospital," Freilich said.

"It's a good five or six weeks before I hit the ice. Charles looks like he's good to go right now," Freilich said.

Gagnon's dream of one day curling in Canada's biggest bonspiel is seemingly now with Freilich.

"I figured this was the best way to get a part of me to the Brier, eventually," Gagnon said.

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