It hasn’t been an easy road for Ryan Mclennan since he received his new kidney, and his new lease on life, about eight months ago, but he says he now feels better than he has at any point in the past five years.
Mclennan is a former resident of southeast Saskatchewan who still has family and friends in the area, and now resides in Calgary. Late last year, he gained national attention after he underwent a kidney transplant, following an advertising campaign in the Calgary area. The campaign noted Mclennan has Type O blood, which is rare, and that a transplant was needed to save his life.
Tony Timmons, a truck driver from nearby Airdrie, saw the billboard, and felt compelled to see if he was a match. He was, so he gave a kidney to Mclennan. They were strangers before, but now they’re best friends who continue to get together to socialize.
Mclennan said something like the transplant causes such a sense of excitement because it’s the “gift of a lifetime.” There were challenges after the surgery, including a leak into his bladder.
But it was around April that things started to look up for him, with the leaks stopping and his medication being reduced.
“I was having a lot of side effects with my medication, so it was good to get that tapered off, but I started to get a lot of problems with my immune system being so low,” he said.
There was a bad bout of the shingles that lasted for a month, and a few bad colds stemming from his weakened immune system.
“It’s a frustrating procedure when you’re a young guy, you get such a great gift, you’re trying to get your life back and you’re constantly still getting sick in one way or another. I kept my spirits up, I had a lot of good family and friends, and was still able to somewhat keep active.”
A turning point came in the spring when Timmons invited Mclennan on a 10-day trip to Palm Springs. Mclennan wanted to join him, but had to be fit and well enough to do so.
“We took the plunge and we booked the trip and then we surprised them, because they didn’t think we were going to be able to come,” said Mclennan.
They played tennis and other sports, and relaxed around the pool.
“That was just the trip of a lifetime,” said Mclennan. “We’re already talking about where can we go next, what we could do next.”
He caught a cold down there, and wound up suffering from migraine headaches, which led to problems with his back. A commitment to fitness helped him recover, and now for the past month, he’s been feeling great.
“I’m doing the yoga, I’m working out at the gym, I’m walking the dog daily, I’m eating really well and I’ve gained a lot of muscle. So now things are exactly where I want them, and I’m just doing the best I can not to get back to any of those stages where things flip again.”
He hopes to return to work at the end of this month as an autobody and shop teacher. He still needs the approval of his doctor.
Mclennan hasn’t been at work since just before the transplant.
“I have a great job, and I do what I love,” said Mclennan. “Obviously we all want to get paid more, but I really do some fantastic, improving, challenging work with the kids that makes a real difference.”
And then there’s the friendship between the Mclennan and the Timmons families. They play pickelball together in Airdrie for two or three hours a week. Mclennan has used his automotive skills to help Timmons out with his vehicle.
“Other kidney people that I talk to, they see the bond that we have. People that donate, a lot of times they want to give this amazing gift to someone, and at the same time, obviously when they do that, they’re also hoping for a type of connection that they can get with the person that they donate with, and surprisingly to me, that doesn’t always happen.”
In May, Timmons was approached to attend a donor appreciation night, and Mclennan joined him. It was an opportunity to meet other people and hear their stories and share their own experiences.
Mclennan presented Timmons with a photo of the two of them together.
The Fed/Ex head office in Memphis is presenting Timmons a humanitarian award for his efforts.
“It’s the first time that a Canadian has been presented with this award in a long time,” said Mclennan.
Mclennan has spent the last few months trying to be active in the kidney community. He talks to people who are waiting for a transplant or have gone through one, and he’s become a big supporter of an upcoming fundraising walk to support people with kidney disease, although he might not be able to participate this year.
And he remains thankful for the support that he has received from people in the southeast region. Mclennan still knows a lot of people in the Estevan area, including his mother, Elaine Austin.
“I get a lot of text messages and Facebook messages from family in that area, wishing me well, especially when I post a picture of myself doing well. I have a lot of friends who I went to school with in Alameda. There’s a lot of social media support and texts. That’s kind of where everything goes today.”
Some of these are friends that he hasn’t seen in 15 years, and they’re reaching out and supporting him.
He hopes that at some point in the future, he can come down to Estevan and Alameda and visit his family and friends, spend time with people in the region again, and thank them for the support.