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Mike’s journey with Kidney disease and the incredible community that rallied around him

Sixteen years ago, Mike welcomed his first child, daughter Lauren.

Wanting to be around to watch her grow he was inspired to visit his family doctor for a checkup to make sure his health was in order. Mike hadn’t seen his family doctor in over a decade. 

A full workup was completed on Mike who was 32 years old at the time. One of the test results came back with abnormal kidney function and high protein levels. This prompted concern and the need for additional testing.  

Mike completed a biopsy which confirmed that he had kidney disease. He would need to see a nephrologist in Mississauga on an annual basis to monitor his kidneys as well as begin taking blood pressure medications to help control his kidney function.  

The family doctor explained the seriousness of the matter, but Mike didn’t think it would amount to much. With kidney disease the organ continues to deteriorate and is unable to regrow, a transplant could be needed in five years or in fifty years or maybe never at all. It is impossible to know how fast the disease will progress from one person to the next.  

Mike shared that, “For years I would go and do my annual bloodwork and tests. The doctor would tell me I was good, and I would be on my way. I felt like I was on top of the world.” Mike is a very strong man who shares few words; he has kind eyes and a gentle presence. 

Then five years ago things started to change as his kidney function began to decline from 50 per cent to 30 per cent and even lower. Mike didn’t want to worry those that cared about him and hid his health from friends and family. 

In June of last year, he became very ill and couldn’t hide it any longer. He developed pneumonia from putting off Dialysis treatment for as long as he could. Mike was transferred from the nephrologist in Mississauga to our hospital.  

The transplant process had begun, and he was placed on 15 hours a week of Dialysis treatment. Mike started to feel a little better and could do a little more. During it all, even while feeling incredibly tired, he would find the strength to take his children skiing. 

“I don’t want to be a sick patient. I want to be around for my kids. I want to be here as they grow,” shared Mike as he held back tears.  

In the Fall, Mike was completing blood tests at Toronto General Hospital in preparation for his kidney transplant when he received a phone call from our nephrologist. Mike’s hemoglobin had dropped so low that it was a marvel that he was even walking. The nephrologist instructed him to go straight to Brampton Civic Hospital and to check himself in as we he would need to stay there for at least a week. Five months later Mike’s transplant was scheduled. 

Days before his transplant, while receiving Dialysis treatment at Headwaters, Mike held up a cup that read ‘Best of luck’ and shared, “One of the nurses made me this special tea (which is actually ice chips used to quench thirst during treatment). It’s a small unit here and I have seen the same people for 15 hours every week for months. We spend time talking to one another and have become friends.” 

In other hospitals, there are teams of hundreds of specially trained Dialysis nurses. Patients can come for treatment and never see the same nurse twice. At Headwaters we have a team of seven nurses and the unit is often referred to as a family.  

“It is neat to share my life with them and to hear about what is going on in their lives. I am grateful for all they have done,” said Mike.  

During a transplant process most people may have one or two people sign up to be a living donor. In Mike’s case 14 friends, family and neighbors volunteered - a testament to how loved he is. Mike’s younger brother, David, was the first person to be tested and he was a perfect match. 

“Mike is my brother. There was never a question as to whether I was going to give him my kidney. He would do it for me,” explained David. 

Normally it could take six months to do a workup on a potential donor and only one out of five people might get accepted but somehow Mike and David beat the odds. David was confirmed as an exact match in just a few short months.  

If after those six months of testing, if it doesn’t work out and the donor isn’t a match the patient would need to start from the beginning and could be waiting years for a donor. 

“Mike has had this problem for a long time. He isn’t one to go on about anything and is not a touchy-feely kind of guy. But when Mike talks about the nurses in the Dialysis unit at Headwaters it is moving. Tania and Kelly have really cared about him and for him,” shared David. 

Mike and David have since completed the transplant and are spending the next few months healing. The hope is that Mike will return almost completely to his life before developing kidney disease with the exception of a few dietary restrictions and needing to see a nephrologist annually.   

Photo caption: Mike receiving Dialysis treatment at Headwaters days before his transplant.