Opinion

It’s amazing how a chance encounter and a few emails can prove to be so memorable.

It’s amazing how a chance encounter and a few emails can prove to be so memorable.

It’s also amazing how sad it is when those lines of communication are lost forever.

The chance encounter was with a fellow kidney-transplant patient at the Health Sciences Centre in the summer of 2019.

We bumped into each other at the elevators — we both had appointments at the renal transplant clinic, which was on the fourth floor then — and she offered best wishes and encouragement. She was older than me and said she had lived with her donated kidney for 13 years. Mine had been working for mere weeks then, and she said there were many great years ahead for me, too.

No one knows how long transplanted kidneys will last, and to hear hers was still going strong after 13 years offered some positive vibes for uncertain times.

Connected by workplace, friendship and now kidney transplant

Click to Expand
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jill Wilson and Alan Small for a piece on their kidney donation experience. Jill gave a kidney so that Alan could receive one faster. 

See Jill's story for 49.8

191016 - Wednesday, October 16, 2019.
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jill Wilson and Alan Small for a piece on their kidney donation experience. Jill gave a kidney so that Alan could receive one faster. See Jill's story for 49.8 191016 - Wednesday, October 16, 2019.

Posted: 7:00 PM Oct. 18, 2019

Free Press writer Jill Wilson made a momentous decision to donate a kidney so Alan Small, her friend and colleague in deteriorating health, was able to receive the organ he so desperately needed. Read their stories.

Read Full Story

A few months later, Rosemarie Yeo sent an email thanking me and my friend and Free Press colleague Jill Wilson — who donated one of her kidneys to the national transplant program, allowing me to get my new organ — for writing about our experiences.

Yeo described her transplant story and mentioned how our two situations were so similar; we both had friends who stepped forward to donate a kidney; she received hers in December 2006 and both she and her friend were both going strong years later.

She later encouraged me to keep taking my meds and to drink lots of water; it helps prevent clots from forming in transplanted kidneys.

Fast-forward again to last April, at the frightening start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Free Press wanted a story that asked people of different generations their views on the situation.

For a senior’s point of view, I sent an email to Yeo and asked if she wanted to take part.

Pandemic creates new, unsettling reality for Manitobans regardless of age

Click to Expand
Rosemarie Yeo lives with her husband Dale at the Stonewall and District Lions Manor. Yeo thinks Manitobans are much better equipped to deal with a pandemic now, compared to family stories she recalls from the time of the Spanish Flu.						</p>
Rosemarie Yeo lives with her husband Dale at the Stonewall and District Lions Manor. Yeo thinks Manitobans are much better equipped to deal with a pandemic now, compared to family stories she recalls from the time of the Spanish Flu.

Posted: 7:00 PM Apr. 13, 2020

In 2019, the term “OK, boomer,” became a popular phrase.

It was a social-media retort to the baby-boom generation from millennials, many of whom had grown weary of judgmental attitudes from older generations. That “OK, boomer” turned into a meme didn’t help foster greater understanding between the generations, which in some cases, were parents (boomers) and their children (millennials).

Read Full Story

She did, and provided some fascinating insight in the story that was published a little over a year ago, on April 13, 2020.

Yeo remembered her father’s stories about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 and about getting her tonsils removed in the height of the polio epidemic in 1950 when doctors in Dauphin, where she grew up, were initially hesitant to perform the surgery.

She also mentioned other pandemics and how she made sure her children and grandchildren were vaccinated.

When she sent me a photo of herself and her husband Dale, I noticed that she was the one I met at the HSC elevators after my surgery who was so happy I had joined the transplant club and cheered me on.

She wound up her response with a message filled with hope, a commodity that was in short supply back then.

"If I had to experience a pandemic, I am thankful that it is now, not 1919. Our (houses) are warmer and most have running water. We have government help, social media, television, wonderful health-care workers, pharmacists, police officers, grocery-store workers, to name a few, to help us out. Thanks to all of you. We will get through this!" she said.

We will get through this, but somehow we will have to do it without Rosemarie Yeo. On Nov. 25, she became one of almost 1,000 Manitobans who have died of COVID-19 to date.

Rosemarie Yeo, 78, and her husband of 58 years, Dale, during lockdown at the Stonewall and District Lions Manor in April 2020. Rosemarie died of COVID-19 in November.</p></p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Rosemarie Yeo, 78, and her husband of 58 years, Dale, during lockdown at the Stonewall and District Lions Manor in April 2020. Rosemarie died of COVID-19 in November.

At the beginning of the pandemic, medical experts said seniors and those with underlying medical conditions were most in danger if they had contracted the coronavirus. Taking immune-suppressing medication, as all transplant patients do, increases the risk because the meds that prevent the body from rejecting the donor organs also make fighting off illnesses more difficult.

Yeo was 79 and a high-risk case. Dale Yeo says they took all the precautions they could to keep his wife and everyone else at the Stonewall seniors residence safe, but her health declined in the summer, and when she was taken to the hospital Nov. 15, he was stunned to learn his wife had tested positive for COVID-19.

"We don’t know how she got COVID. We were ridiculously careful," he says. "They told me on the 17th, ‘Your wife has COVID.’ I must have said three times, ‘How could that be? How could that be?’ and the nurse just said, ‘Mr. Yeo, it’s everywhere.’"


Global or local, the COVID-19 death toll glosses over the human cost.

In Yeo’s case, the loss is of a pillar of her community. The Yeos settled in Roblin in 1962 and, during that time, she helped found the town’s nursery school and became its director for the next 21 years. She volunteered at Roblin’s food bank and later became its chairperson. She also helped lobby and raise money for a palliative-care room at Roblin Health Centre.

Rosemarie with her husband Dale.

SUPPLIED PHOTO

Rosemarie with her husband Dale.

In 1993, she was named Roblin’s citizen of the year. The Yeos moved to Stonewall in 2017 to be closer to their grandchildren.

She was also Dale’s wife for more than 59 years, a mother, grandmother and had so many friends that 47 people took the time to write online condolences alongside her Free Press obituary.

Among the most difficult aspects of the pandemic are the restrictions on funerals and memorial services, which are already difficult life events, but they allow friends and family to say a final goodbye together.

"A memorial service will take place next spring or whenever this cursed virus is vanquished."

Bringing dozens of people together for any reason is the wrong thing to do now. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we miss seeing those who are alive and miss saying farewell to those who are gone.

The final sentence in Rosemarie Yeo’s obituary in the Free Press aptly sums up many folks’ situations.

"A memorial service will take place next spring or whenever this cursed virus is vanquished."

The sooner we can pay our respects to Rosemarie Yeo and all those who have died in the past year, the better.

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

   Read full biography