Desperate family takes out 27 billboards to find kidney donor for Calgary man

Elaine Austin admits it's an unconventional approach. She and other family members have taken out more than two dozen billboards in and around Calgary to try to find a kidney donor for her son, whose current kidney is functioning at just six per cent.

Ryan Mclennan received kidney from mom 15 years ago and now needs another transplant

Ryan Mclennan with his mom, Elaine Austin. The family has set up 27 billboards in Calgary searching for a living kidney donor for Mclennan. (Submitted by Shakina Mclennan)

The family of a Calgary man has posted an appeal on more than two dozen billboards in and around the city in a desperate bid to find him a kidney donor.

Elaine Austin admits it's an unconventional approach to finding a match for her son, Ryan Mclennan.

But the woman from Estevan, Sask., is willing to do whatever it takes: Mclennan's current kidney is functioning at just six per cent.

Put up in early February, the black-and-yellow appeals on 27 billboards are hard to miss.

Ryan Mclennan's family has set up 27 billboards in Calgary to search for a living kidney donor. (James Young/CBC)

They feature a photo of the 42-year-old Calgary man and his wife, Shakina, along with his blood type — which is O — and a phone number (403-971-6572).

Mclennan's was working as a mechanic when his kidneys began to fail about 15 years ago, leaving him unable to continue at the auto shop.

"They're not really sure what happened," Austin told CBC Radio's Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday. "The last report we had is that high blood pressure killed his kidneys."

Mclennan needed a new kidney to survive, so his mom stepped up and donated one of hers.

Ryan Mclennan received a kidney from his mom 15 years ago but it is now functioning at just six per cent. (Submitted by Shakina Lovely)

But they knew that wouldn't be a permanent fix. The organ would eventually fail and he would need another transplant.

Fast forward to today and the family is again desperately searching for another living donor.

"I'm a very aggressive mom," said Austin.

Despite being unable to work as a mechanic, Mclennan has been able to continue using his knowledge over the years, having returned to school to become a teacher after his previous transplant.

He now instructs the mechanics and auto body program at Father Lacombe High School in Calgary.

Ryan Mclennan was healthy and active before his kidneys started failing 15 years ago. (Submitted by Shakina Lovely)

The idea for the billboards came from Mclennan's wife. The family also has decals with a similar message on the rear windows of their vehicles.

And they've created a Facebook page to spread the message farther. 

Austin said Mclennan is on a transplant list but "that takes time" — something the family may not have.

"We were at the hospital yesterday and he had a line put in because he has to start dialysis," she said.

About the Author

Dave Dormer

Web writer

Dave Dormer joined CBC Calgary in May 2016. A graduate of the SAIT photojournalism program, Dave has worked in print and television newsrooms across western Canada. Story ideas can be sent to