Friends arranging for kidney transplant

After many years on dialysis, Juneau man has hope for future

Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006

Troy Kahklen and friend Ray Vidic don't sit around debating who's the better man between themselves, but when they describe each other to family, friends and even strangers - it's clear they are part of a mutual admiration society.

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While Vidic sees Kahklen as a tough man, describing the gut wrenching kidney dialysis he has gone through three days a week for the last decade; Kahklen sees Vidic as a life-saving hero for offering his own kidney to replace Kahklen's damaged ones.

"I don't feel brave or strong," Kahklen said. "I do (dialysis) or I die. I was in shock (when Vidic made the offer). I told him I had to think about it. He just doesn't know what I know."

But Vidic said he knows it's the right thing to do, and now the Juneau men are waiting for a phone call.

Kahklen, a 46-year-old rights-protection specialist for the Natural Resources Branch of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, already has had three kidneys. His failed in June 1991 after he was stricken with Lupus, an autoimmune disease. A third kidney donated by a brother failed later when the disease had a rare flare-up, Kahklen has been on dialysis since. He recalled 61/2 years of dialysis at his mother's home in Juneau where he lived to be close to his family. He hired a technician to come in and help, but he still had to prepare the equipment and clean up. It's still uncomfortable, but it's been easier since the Reifenstein Dialysis Center opened in March 2004.

"If blood spills, we don't have to clean it up," he said.

Vidic, 54, who works with special-needs children at River Bend Elementary School, wasn't even a close friend when he offered a kidney, Kahklen said.

"Our wives worked together (for United Bank of Alaska in the 1980s.) I would see him behind the counter for Alaska Airlines. We'd pass in town, like you do here in Juneau and say hello and catch up."

Vidic said that when he and Kahklen met with the chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, the doctor said Kahklen's life expectancy would double with a new kidney.

"That just kind of hit me," Vidic said. "He'll be around longer. What a small price to pay."

Vidic said he knows there are risks. He talked with his wife, Sheri, about them because there is a small chance he won't survive the surgery. He has faith in the staff of Johns Hopkins, one of the world's most respected hospitals and thinks he can possibly live to 100 with one kidney.

Not many hospitals will perform a transplant with people who have different blood types, Vidic said. According to his research, only five in the country will be able to perform a double transplant, which will require finding a pair that will match them. Johns Hopkins even can perform an exchange involving three pairs of people - and six simultaneously operating rooms and surgical teams.

Kahklen said life without kidneys isn't fun. But what he goes through is his only option. Although everything looks promising for another transplant, he can't get too excited because it might fall apart. He said he was devastating when he lost his brother's kidney. The prospect of starting over again led to the breakup of his marriage, he added.

"I don't want to get too high or too low. If I have to live another 20 or 30 years on dialysis, I'll do it," he said.

Vidic said Kahklen is a deserving candidate for the transplant.

"This guy wakes up in the morning and knows he's lucky to be alive," Vidic said, adding, "It's a small gift I'm making that can positively touch a lot of lives. It's what we give, not what take."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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