Thanks to a friend, Matt Hassen is getting a new kidney. Thanks to a community, he’s getting the time to recuperate.
Matt is off to Vancouver Sunday for a November 8 surgery made possible by bartending buddy Josh Hackett.
“I’m a type-1 diabetic. I have been since I was seven,” explains Matt. “The kidneys started going down about 14 years ago.”
Last year, the kidneys took a significant turn for the worse when Matt caught the flu. Suddenly his output was at 16 percent and dialysis was a serious consideration.
Dialysis is a procedure that substitutes many of the normal functions of the kidneys, which are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood.
Patients generally go to the dialysis unit three times a week for treatment, which can last anywhere from two to four-and-half hours.
The whole ordeal was something Matt wasn’t real excited about.
“Once my kidney team had told me I was down to a pretty severe level with my kidneys, it took me awhile to come to grips with what my life would be like,” he recalls.
Then he connected with friends on social media channels and shared the news.
“I’m going to need a kidney,” he told them. “If anyone’s interested, get a hold of me.”
Josh, a bartending buddy who now works for Canada Post, quickly answered the call.
“I went to work a couple of days later and Josh said, ‘Hey, I’ve got two — let’s do this.’ ”
Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
Testing to see if a donated kidney will be a match begins with a blood test, which determines blood type and if it will match the recipient’s blood (compatibility). If the blood type is compatible with the recipient, two more blood tests are done — tissue typing and cross-matching.
The two friends were involved in months of testing before the good news came.
“It was a total match,” Matt says of his pairing with Josh.
From there, it was a waiting game. Matt continued a very strict diet — no more than two grams of protein a day, no foods with phosphorus, no potassium, no whole grains, no processed sugar and no fats.
“All the stuff your kidneys filter out, they don’t want you eating to overwork your kidneys,” Matt says.
Meanwhile, Josh had to deal with the enormity of his decision. Both Matt and Josh turned to another Osoyoos contact — Terry Craig — who had donated a kidney to his wife.
“Because he was a donor, he was talking to me about what Josh is feeling and what he went through and his process and I’ve been able to give that information to Josh,” Matt says.
Matt and Josh also spent time with others in the community who have received kidney transplants.
“They’ve all been very welcoming and opening. They’ve been able to tell me what to expect. Hearing it from the voice of someone who has gone through it has been great.”
The final piece of the puzzle was having the time to recuperate. Matt’s employer, the Owl Pub, took care of a big chunk of that, organizing a fundraiser in mid-October.
“It was great — absolutely amazing,” Matt says. “My recovery time is 10 to 12 months. The fundraising will allow me to at least not have to worry about getting back into work as soon as I can and I can concentrate on my recovery.”
That includes several months in hospital in Vancouver and even more time home in Osoyoos.
“I’ve talked to the other kidney transplant recipients in Osoyoos and they say there’s about six or seven months of craziness. Your body has to get used to the drugs,” he says.
He’ll also have his girlfriend, Caitlyn, by his side.
“There’s a lot wrong with me and she’s been right next to me, which has been fantastic,” he says with obvious affection. “She’s been there through all the blood work, through all the lab work, through all the doctor’s visits and all the travelling.”
The road forward for Matt and Caitlyn starts this week. But it’s a journey Matt is happy to be making.
“The benefit of the surgery is I won’t be on dialysis and I’ll be able to extend my life,” he says.
“I’ve been fairly lucky with having a great team doing my blood work and watching me. I’ve been a very lucky man.”