A fighter remembered

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Juneau resident Troy Kahklen, whose unusual kidney transplant gained national attention, died Sunday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Kahklen, 47, had been fighting complications from a kidney transplant five months ago, said father, Joe Kahklen. He chose last week to end the dialysis, when his body was quitting and the chances were slim he would make it through another needed surgery.

Friends said Kahklen will be remembered as a fighter.

"Troy's will is like an iceberg," said Juneau resident Ray Vidic, who donated his kidney to Kahklen in September. "You don't know the other nine-tenths is there. But it becomes apparent as you get to know him."

Kahklen needed the kidney because he came down with lupus 16 years ago. His kidney failed as a result, and he was on dialysis for years. His brother, Craig, donated a kidney in 1991. It was rejected. At one point, Troy Kahklen was in a coma for a month and a half in an Anchorage hospital.

In the last few years, Kahklen wasn't going to let kidney dialysis keep him from golfing trips with his buddies.

"We played around it," said Ted Quinn, who grew up with him. "He was forever going off and hooking up to a bag."

Besides his parents, Joe and Abby Kahklen, Troy Kahklen leaves behind an 18-year-old son, Kyle, and brothers Craig and Keith, all of whom live in Juneau.

Vidic, working at Alaska Airlines, first got to know Kahklen as he shuttled back and forth for treatments to Anchorage. Vidic began researching kidney failure and found a system pioneered by John Hopkins doctors involving blood matches among other incompatible pairs of donors and receivers.

Vidic took Kahklen out to lunch and told him what he'd learned.

Kahklen's response was, Vidic says, " 'Well, if the guy's offering me a kidney, I guess I can buy him lunch.'"

The dry humor, typical of Kahklen, was learned from his grandfather, according to Troy's father, Joe Kahklen.

Troy Kahklen, Vidic and two other pairs of people endured simultaneous surgeries at Johns Hopkins to transfer three kidneys, in a kind of organ musical chairs, to the pairs with the right blood types.

They drew national attention and National Geographic magazine documented the surgeries.

The Kahklens were overwhelmed by local support. A fundraiser in Juneau contributed $23,000 for the process through the National Transplant Association Fund. Another in January poured in $6,000.

Craig Kahklen, for the last five months, updated a Web site on his brother's condition at www.thestatus.org. It didn't matter how mundane the details were. People wanted to know how Troy Kahklen was doing, his brother said, and they'd call if they didn't have news.

For Troy Kahklen, the first week went well as a kidney filtered his blood for the first time in 13 years. And then his body began to reject the kidney. Complications ensued.

His parents spent most of the last five months living in an apartment in Baltimore to be near their son. Friends from Juneau poured in, too, especially once the family realized how much Kahklen perked up to see them.

Near the end, the antibiotics had made him deaf, and his body was much reduced from the strapping size it had been.

Yet his friend Sheldon Williams recalls visiting Kahklen and seeing him sit up in bed, barking at the physical therapist to get moving: "Come on!"

Williams wrote in an e-mail this memory of Kahklen, the athlete, from earlier days:

"I have a vivid memory of him standing at first base, pumping his fist in his glove and yelling at any one of us who weren't putting out the same 150 percent he was, in a booming voice so loud the entire park could hear it, 'COME ON!'"

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Northern Lights United Church.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

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