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Penticton entrepreneur hailed as ‘an angel on earth’

Businessman makes double lung transplant possible for Princeton woman

“You know you are saving my life, right?”

Those are the first words Princeton’s Christine Unrau said to her benefactor Gary Johal, who is willing to put up as much money as it takes so that Unrau can receive a double lung transplant, as soon as a matching donor is found.

Despite an earlier GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $25,000, it’s estimated the cost of post-operative care could easily exceed $40,000.

“I’m going to be in this with you until the end,” he told Unrau, after presenting her with a bouquet of flowers and a warm embrace.

The two met at Princeton’s Copper Pit Restaurant, Saturday, March 23.

“I will cover the cost, whatever it is. If it goes to $50,000 or $60,000, it doesn’t really matter.”

Johal, a successful entrepreneur from Penticton, learned of Unrau’s plight through media reports, earlier this week

Following surgery, Unrau will need to live in Vancouver between three and six months, with her husband Arlen, who will be her required caregiver the entire time.

The costs, which are not covered by the province, were beyond the family’s reach. Unrau removed her name from the transplant registry in January, for that reason.

Johal was drawn into Unrau’s journey because of his father, he told Black Press.

The family patriarch spent six years on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.

“I know the pain and the stress and when I saw (her) name was taken off the list it broke my heart. It was devastating.”

Johal’s dad eventually had successful transplant surgery.

Claiming good fortune, “we were able to pay all the expenses,” he said.

In turn: “I feel this is my duty as a Canadian.”

Johal immigrated in 1997, from India, and landed a job as a clerk at a Mac’s convenience store in Penticton.

Two years later he was the franchisee, and he and his family continued to build on that success. He now operates more than fifteen small businesses across the province, and exercises philanthropy regularly, along with his brother, supporting health care initiatives in several cities, as well as community events and festivals.

Unrau called Johal “an angel on earth.” She plans to give back in the only way she can right now, which is to promote the need for policy change that will mean “no one will have to die because they don’t have money.”

Unrau has been invited to visit Victoria and meet with Premier David Eby to discuss the issues, and she is partnered with the BC Rural Health Network, based out of Princeton,.

Executive director Paul Adams reported there are 450 transplant surgeries performed in Vancouver every year, but 150 of those patients come from outside the Fraser Valley.

The organization’s goal is to ensure that all B.C. residents have access to health care without a financial penalty.

“Do you have enough money to be able to move to Vancouver in order to get surgery? That’s the inequity and it’s really egregious. It’s one of the most egregious inequities that rural residents face,” he told the Spotlight in an earlier interview.”

Unrau said she is normally a private person, and it’s difficult for her take a front-and-centre role in such a high profile issue.

“But I’m gonna stir things up. I’m not going to be quiet.”

To Johal, Adams said, “You are saving Chris’ life, and Chris is going to save many more lives.”

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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