Calgary man puts up signs in 'desperate' bid to help friend, stranger find kidney donors

Antonela Marian and Sarjoon Abdul-Cader have never met, but they have much in common. They have both been diagnosed with a debilitating illness and refuse to let it define them, having both achieved remarkable success in their careers.

Mohan Balachandran put up 75 signs, 100 bumper stickers across Calgary with pleas for help

Mohan Balachandran is working to help a friend and a stranger in Calgary find kidney donors. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

Antonela Marian and Sarjoon Abdul-Cader have never met, but they have much in common. They have both been diagnosed with a debilitating illness and refuse to let it define them, having both achieved remarkable success in their careers.

They are also motivated by a desperate hope to survive. And they've placed their faith in a mutual friend to help them each find what they need — a kidney.

"They don't give you a warranty, how long you can survive or how long (the treatment) is working," Marian says. "The dialysis can stop at any time. And you can die."

We are desperate.-Mohan Balachandran, who is working to help two people find kidney donors

Marian and Abdul-Cader both need new kidneys, and were told they'd have to wait up to 10 years for a transplant. They're both being treated with dialysis, which substitutes the work of healthy kidneys and takes hours each day to administer.

Mohan Balachandran, who has known Abdul-Cader for years, worries the condition will deteriorate his friend's quality of life.

After the diagnosis, Balachandran began searching widely for a potential donor, putting up 75 signs and passing out 100 bumper stickers that say "Kidney donor needed" across the Calgary area.

"We are desperate," he says.

He's not the first Calgarian to advertise his search for a kidney donor. Ryan Mclennan found a donor in November about nine months after his wife Shakina bought 27 billboards with this plea: "Ryan Mclennan needs a living kidney donor, blood type O."

Marian saw one of Balachandran's signs. She's been on a kidney transplant wait list for more than three years and called the number at the bottom of the sign.

Balachandran offered to help.

Potential donors who answer his ads and follow the organ donor process through Alberta Health Services will be screened to determine if they're a match.

'A big opportunity'

When she heard the news, Marian says she broke down in tears.

"It's a big opportunity for us."

An opportunity to live.

According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, more than two thirds of Canadians waiting for an organ transplant are waiting for a kidney. More than 300 Albertans were on the wait list for a kidney transplant last year.

The provincial transplant program typically accepts living kidney donations from blood relatives or someone who has a close relationship with the recipient. The health authority will consider living donors recruited through public pleas, but AHS says it doesn't lead that process.

While wait times vary, depending on blood type and other health factors, it takes an average of three to seven years to find a suitable kidney donor, according to AHS.

Sarjoon Abdul-Cader, left, and Antonela Marian, right, have never met, but they both are searching for kidneys in Calgary. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

While they wait and undergo treatment, Abdul-Cader and Marian have refused to be sidelined by their condition.

Abdul-Cader, a PhD student studying animal viruses at the University of Calgary, has continued an aggressive research program. In the past two years, he has been published in 18 peer reviewed papers and has received accolades for his work.

Marian studied early childhood education and now works with toddlers at a daycare. She also has a second job cleaning. After 10 hours at work, she has to go on dialysis for four hours, every other day.

"It's very tough."

Mohan Balachandran has put up signs around Calgary with pleas for people to come forward as kidney donors. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

Balachandran, who was born in Sri Lanka, says he's inspired by his friends who are "amazing people" and "contributing more and more to Canadian society. And I think there should be a way to help them out." He also sees his role helping them as a way of giving back to his adoptive country.

"I call myself a new Canadian, even though I'm going on the 18th year. I had to flee the country that I was in," he says. "When I came here, this country embraced me with open arms and gave me everything I have right now.

"This is the least I could do."


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