Former Canora resident in need of new kidney

Jon Kalmakoff, formerly of Canora, has been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), an inherited disease, and is looking for a kidney transplant.

Kalmakoff grew up in Canora, where his family has lived and farmed for many generations. He graduated from the Canora Composite High School in 1989.

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He attended the University of Saskatchewan, and received a B.A. and a L.L.B. in Law. In 1998 he moved to Regina, where he has been practising law ever since. Initially he worked in a large private firm and since 2000 he has been with the Saskatchewan Power Corporation, where he serves as a director supervising five other lawyers.

Kalmakoff was diagnosed with PKD in 2002.

“For the past year, I have been in stage 5 kidney failure, requiring dialysis,” he explained. “I have to undertake daily dialysis. Somewhat fortunately, I'm able to do the dialysis from home rather than travel to the hospital each day. Having said that, I've had several operations related to my kidney condition over the past year which have required hospital stays.  The dialysis keeps me alive, but is not a full substitute for a healthy, functioning kidney and I'm coping with regular, daily fatigue.” 

Because of the fatigue, Kalmakoff has been unable to work full time.

As of December 31, he has been listed on the provincial Deceased Donors list, maintained by St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, where any transplant would take place. Kalmakoff must have regular monthly blood work done to ensure he is not bypassed should a potential kidney match arise.

He said a deceased kidney is a good and useful backup plan to have in place. The reality, however, is that it can come at any time, or not at all. Kalmakoff may, quite literally get a call tomorrow. But at the same time, people have been known to wait years for a deceased donor kidney. He said it is much like winning the lottery.

With a living donor, however, there is considerably greater control and co-ordination over the schedule and the timing of the transplant. In terms of matching and success rate, and overall health of the donated kidney, a living donor is preferable over a deceased one.

“In mid-December, we started a social media campaign, in the hope of finding a living donor,” said Kalmakoff. “Doing so was certainly outside of my comfort zone, but it is a practical necessity and I remain optimistic that it will yield results.”

As a person with blood type AB, he is a universal recipient. However, several unsuccessful attempts have been made by close friends and family members to become living donors, as they were all deemed incompatible. So the search for a kidney continues.

If a patient has the AB blood type and needs an organ, as is Kalmakoff’s case, that person could accept an organ from donors of all blood types, just as they can accept blood of any type. It is the process of matching a donor and recipient that is more complicated and requires matching beyond just compatible blood types. For this reason, not everyone may be compatible.

“'Jonathan's Kidney Team' is an online social media campaign through Facebook created to raise awareness about my health situation and to seek a healthy, living kidney donor for transplant purposes,” Kalmakoff said. “It was created by my sister Carrie Kalmakoff of Calgary and my friend Lisa Postnikoff of Castlegar, B.C. A number of people have joined it, offering their support and encouragement.”

The donation of a kidney would increase his life span and allow him to provide for his three children: Katherine, 13; Emily, 10 and Jake, 2.

“Being a single parent of three young children, my health situation has made it a challenge,” said Kalmakoff. “The daily dialysis has made travel with them, even to Canora, much more challenging. The daily fatigue I experience can place limits on the sort of physical activities I can enjoy with them. Since it has left me unable to work full time, there are obvious financial implications.”

Kalmakoff said he has remained strong, positive and optimistic throughout this lengthy process.

“I'm confident that a transplant will happen, and hopeful that it will happen soon, so that I can resume a more or less normal lifestyle,” he said. “I credit my ongoing positive attitude to the love and support of my family and close friends, as this experience has certainly brought us closer together and made us value our time together more. I also attribute it to my family Doukhobor faith and heritage for helping inspire me to carry on in the face of adversity.”

He has made use of his time off work to pursue a life-long interest in history.

“I have researched and written number of articles about little-known aspects of local history, such as the The Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora series that was published in the Canora Courier over the past year. Its satisfying to be able to share information with others about their history.

“I also try to stay active, notwithstanding my fatigue, by going for walks and short hikes with my children, bike rides and kayaking in the summer, and so on.”

Kalmakoff said he has discovered that it’s important to keep involved and engaged when going through such a difficult situation.

“It is vital to stay positive and optimistic and not allow the circumstances, no matter how adverse, to dampen your spirit,” he explained. “Don't be afraid to reach out to family and friends when you need their support. And get engaged in the medical process, arming yourself with as much data and information as you can, and be your own advocate with respect to doctors and practitioners.”

Kalmakoff encourages everyone to consider registering their names to become organ donors.

“Better still, living kidney donors lead healthy normal lives, so consider a living donation.

Potential donors can donate anonymously, if so desired, by contacting the Saskatchewan Chronic Kidney Disease Centre at 306-766-6477, or by speaking with the family physician,” he concluded.