'I thought it was just a bad case of the flu'
Dan Macaulay is a typical east coast kind of guy. He’ll bend over backwards to help a friend, and go out of his way to make sure everyone is having a good time. His positive attitude is infectious, and he always has a smile on his face.
But in the fall of 2007, Dan was struck with a sequence of unfortunate events which led to the failure of both his kidneys. Until May of this year, he spent countless hours on dialysis in and out of the hospital three times a week.
Dan grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, right across the harbour from Halifax. An avid swimmer, he was recruited to join the McMaster varsity swim team by fellow Dartmouth native and head coach, Andrew Cole. “McMaster is a very good academic school with a swim program that I wanted to be a part of,” says Dan. “The decision wasn’t hard to move away from home and come to school here.”
Andrew remembers recruiting Dan because of the direction he wanted his team to go in. “Our team is about family values, perseverance and doing it with a good attitude. That’s what Daniel is.”
Dan’s first year of university started off well. He moved into residence, participated in frosh week activities and made good friends with his Marauder teammates. But during the last week of October, Dan started feeling sick. Not thinking it was anything serious, he continued with daily routines, classes and swim workouts, training in the water eight times a week. When it became a challenge to attend two classes in a row due to fatigue, Dan knew it was time to see a doctor. He was tested for pneumonia and strep throat, but as Dan recalls, “I thought it was just a bad case of the flu.”
A month passed and the fatigue persisted. The first week in November marked a full weekend of competitions for the Marauder swim team. One at home in the Ivor Wynne Centre pool, and an away meet at the University of Western Ontario. Dan recalls not being able to compete in either competition due to his fatigue. Despite Dan’s illness, he still traveled to support the team - all part of his kind nature. By Sunday night, he was absolutely exhausted and noticed some swelling in his ankles had gotten worse throughout the day. Dan spoke with the massage trainer about the inflammation, and was prompted to go to the emergency room on campus. That evening, he was quickly admitted for a series of tests.
Dan was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), an autoimmune disease that scars and damages the kidneys, and eventually lead to failure in Dan's in January 2007. By March, the doctors said there was nothing that could be done for Dan’s native kidneys. He had 28 liters of extra fluid on his body that his kidneys could simply not process.
On April 1, just six months after being told there was something wrong, Dan was put on dialysis with complete kidney failure. He was forced to move home to Nova Scotia and continue treatments in Halifax. Dan attended St. Mary’s University while at home, and started coaching the age group team he grew up with. “Coaching age group swimmers was a great way to give back to the sport that I grew up with,” says Dan.
Even on dialysis, he made staying active his number one priority. He continued to swim almost every day and started road biking, but missed McMaster and his fellow Marauders in Hamilton.
No working kidneys? No problem. Dan decided to try varsity swimming again. In the fall of 2009, he moved back to Hamilton to finish off what he had started.
Swimming competitively changed drastically for Dan, with dietary restrictions and a very difficult time recovering between workouts. With the kidney failure, his body was not processing lactic acid and other wastes produced while working out. Despite all these setbacks, Dan still competed at the OUA Championships that season and managed to score points for the team. In the fall of 2011, a coaching opportunity arose with the swim team so Dan decided to take a shot at it.
“Coaching over the last season has been just as demanding as training was,” says Dan. He was on deck from Sunday to Friday evenings, and completed office work on top of being a full-time student. All year, Dan was on dialysis nearly 20 hours per week. “This made it difficult sometimes,” says Dan. Difficult would be an understatement, but Dan’s optimism never dwindled, “I learned to fit my life around dialysis and it became routine.”
May 9, 2012, was the day that changed everything. Drew Bugden, another Nova Scotian and Dan’s best friend since childhood, offered to have surgery and donate his own kidney to Dan. Drew, a healthy young man with two functioning kidneys, had started the Transplant Workup in November and was approved for a kidney transplant in April.
The surgery was a success. Dan was up and walking within 12 hours of the transplant, and his new kidney is now functioning well. The doctors are very pleased with Dan’s recovery process; he was released from hospital less than a week after the initial surgery. Drew was released the day before and flew back to Nova Scotia to recuperate.
“He’s an inspiration to all of us,” says swim team coach Andrew Cole of Dan. Just three weeks after surgery, Dan was back on deck coaching and even hopped in the pool a few times. He credits the swim team for their support along the way, “Throughout this entire process, from being diagnosed to my recovery, the McMaster Swim Team has been a huge support system for me,” says Dan. The year after he was diagnosed (and each year following), the swim team has attended “Give the Gift of Life,” a fundraiser put on by the Kidney Foundation that takes place around Ontario each fall.
Dan is thrilled to be coaching the swim team full-time for the 2012-13 season. “I am doing well, everything is healed up and working great. I am feeling great,” says Dan, who was recently profiled in the Hamilton Spectator by columnist Scott Radley.
When asked how he is going to thank Drew for his kidney, Dan responded, “I don’t know how you can ever thank someone for a gift like this.”
Read more about the Kidney Foundation of Canada, and find out about future Kidney Walks taking place in your area.