Now Or Never

8 years in limbo, Winnipeg family waits for a kidney

Blair Waldvogel has been on dialysis and waiting for a kidney transplant for more than eight years. Find out how it's affected his whole family, and what they dream of doing once he finally get the call they've all been waiting for.
Blair Waldvogel spends four hours a day, four times a week, in his spare room, on dialysis. He's been waiting for a kidney for eight years. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

Blair Waldvogel wishes he didn't have to spend so much time in his basement. But if he doesn't, he'll die.

The 52-year-old Winnipeg father has been on Manitoba's kidney transplant list for the past eight years.  His Type O blood means Blair can only receive a kidney from a Type O donor and he hasn't been able to find a match.

So, four days a week, Blair Waldvogel goes downstairs to the guest bedroom, hooks himself up to his home dialysis machine, and sits there for four hours while the machine cleans his blood.

This certificate hangs in Blair Waldvogel's dialysis room. He had to go for training to be able to administer his treatment at home. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

"I never imagined I'd get to eight years," said Blair. "I try hard not to let it really get to me. I can't get mad about it or bitter about it, because eight years is a long time to be bitter about something."

If you include the time it takes to set up the machine and to clean up afterwards, Blair has spent the equivalent of 348 days in his basement on dialysis.

"He never complains," said Waldvogel's wife, Irene.  "The strength that is needed to do this for such a long time, he had to give up so much."

Huge impact

Blair was the president of the North American recycling program for an international steel company before he started dialysis. He tried to continue to work, but the treatment schedule combined with his job responsibilities and two young sons at home made it impossible.

"I felt like: I'm not doing a good job at home with my family, I'm not doing a good job with my health, and I'm not doing a good job at work. One of those three had to give, so I had to stop working," said Blair.

This family photo was taken around the time Blair Waldvogel started dialysis treatment. His sons were 6 and 3 at the time. (Supplied)

Blair went on long-term disability and his family adjusted to the new reality that included a change in income, a very restrictive diet that made meals a challenge, and family life that incorporated a demanding treatment schedule.

"There have been some scary, scary times along the way," said Irene. She has had to call paramedics more than once after Blair passed out in his dialysis room because his blood pressure dropped too low. 

Still, the couple is grateful that home dialysis is an option for them. It allows them to modify Blair's schedule when there are important family events, and means that he's had the opportunity to spend time with his sons as they've grown up. 

Living with kidney failure takes planning. Irene and Blair Waldvogel work their family schedule around his dialysis days. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

"I compare myself to other people I see on dialysis and what their lives are like," said Blair "I feel like I've had a relatively soft landing."

The Waldvogels are frustrated by statistics that show that 90 per cent of Canadians support organ donation, but only 25 per cent have registered as donors.

"I would never try to convince someone they had to be an organ donor," said Blair. "There's enough people who want to be organ donors and we're missing them. That's where the focus needs to be."

Top of the list

In March, Transplant Manitoba told Blair that he was at the top of the kidney transplant wait list. That means that each time a kidney is donated, tests are done to see if it is a match for him or someone else in a smaller pool of people on the transplant list.

"What it really means is anywhere from six to 18 months," said Blair. "It's good to be there, but I'm not waiting by the phone that's for sure."

Irene looks forward to the day they can move the dialysis machine out of their basement and plan a family vacation that doesn't involve a treatment schedule, or go to a three-day hockey tournament with their youngest son.

"If I was to get a transplant, four lives would be directly changed and impacted," said Blair.

"You can change the lives of a lot of people."

The Waldvogels' sons Leo (11) and Jack (14) don't have many memories of life before Blair's dialysis treatments. (Supplied)