Carolann Harris has the perfect gift for her husband this Christmas: her kidney.
After years struggling with a rare autoimmune disease, Chris, 33, and Carolann, 34, are only a few months away from traveling to Halifax for transplant.
But it's been a long and frustrating road with a financial burden facing the young family in the face at an expensive time of year.
Chris and Carolann met at a local darts game eight years ago through the stepfather of Carolann, a friend of Chris's family. At the time, Carolann was married, so Chris had to be patient.
Two years later, Carolann was single and Chris invited her out on a date as soon as she could. Chris is 6 "5", so he crouched to talk to her at eye level.
Today, they are celebrating six years of marriage.
Five years ago, the first signs of illness appeared. Chris showed a lack of energy and became visibly pale for months. He resisted going to the doctor at first, but after he spent a long night vomiting blood in the bathroom, they knew something serious was going on.
Chris was diagnosed with Goodpasture's syndrome, a genetic disease that attacks the immune system and destroyed the blood vessels in Chris's lungs and kidneys.
After Chris fought the disease for a few years and had to leave a job on the keg, the disease went into remission. Chris went to school to become a carpenter, despite losing much of his kidney function.
Two months after finishing the program and returning to work, the disease returned.
Today, Chris has no kidney function and undergoes three dialysis treatments per week. Chris and Carolann are hoping to travel to Halifax at the beginning of the new year for transplant.
Carolann works 60 hours a week as a personal care assistant to support the family, including 13-year-old Anthony and 11-year-old Abigail.
Chris says it's very special to know that the kidney he needs comes from the woman he loves.
"I feel blessed. Unlike being put on a waiting list, and you do not know where it comes from, I'm getting it from someone I love very much and I'm married and I trust my life, "he said.
"She's giving it to me. There is much comfort in this. "
Carolann says it's special to know that she can give her husband a new life.
"It's incredible," she said.
"I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure things out in my head, a lot of deep thought. I'm very very happy. I just want to get it over with now. I had two kids, donating a kidney will not slow me down. "
While organ donation is special, it comes with a financial burden.
The provincial government offers a repayment program for people who travel for such surgeries – but between two children, a mortgage and travel costs, the family does not have much financing in advance to receive reimbursement. When the couple discovered in October that Carolann was the donor, raising money for the travel and recovery period became the first priority.
"One of the first things they say is:" Let's make a letter so you can make a fundraiser. "That's okay, but it's hard and you do not have to," said Carolann .
She says she had to tell her kids that Christmas would be a little different this year to allow for Dad's surgery.
Anthony, the older brother, knows the truth of Santa Claus, but the little sister Abigail still believes.
"We just told her that, with all that going on, Santa's greatest gift is that Daddy's going to get Mommy's kidney and Dad's going to be better," she said.
"We said that this was the greatest gift Santa could offer. We said we had to give a little light this year because it is a great desire. "
The Kidney Foundation, nationwide, receives funding from some provinces to provide advance and repayable loans to families who travel for transplants – but travel loans do not apply to the Atlantic provinces.
The couple trusted their family and friends so far, but a GoFundMe campaign has raised so far only $ 600 from the $ 10,000 target.
But finances are just one of the obstacles the couple faced.
Carolann is a survivor of sexual assault and was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result.
Because of her PTSD, several letters from health professionals were needed to ensure she could handle the tension. But another bump appeared: Carolann says his doctors were worried that his mental illness might prevent his kidney donation to Chris.
"It was compared to me by a doctor over the phone that having a mental illness is like cancer. She said, "If we're not going to take a kidney from a cancer patient, why should we take one from you?"
"At the end of the day, he's going to get my kidney because we're going to fight it. But they are holding us back because I have to prove to them that surgery on my part will not trigger my PTSD. "
Carolann says she received all the letters requested at the time, so it's just a question of paperwork going through the system.
He will not be 100% healed, but with a new kidney, Chris may begin to return to normal life. Carolann says that's all they want this Christmas.
"If he can take 10 to 15 years from one kidney before needing another, that's fantastic."
The couple says they will breathe for the first time in five years when the plane lands on the asphalt in Halifax New Year.