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Canora resident celebrates a year with a new kidney

As someone with first-hand experience in receiving a health kidney, Oney Pollock has valuable advice for anyone with kidney disease, “Remain positive and never lose hope."

CANORA - After battling the natural urge to “feel hopeless,” everything changed for Oney Pollock when Kim Hladun agreed to donate a kidney to her.

 “Kim and I celebrated the first anniversary of my kidney transplant on April 25,” said Pollock.

Both women are Canora residents.

A genetic condition

Pollock was first diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) during a routine ultrasound in her mid-forties. Although this is a genetic condition, there was no evidence of anyone in her family having had this disease before this diagnosis. Pollock now believes she had a mutated gene.

“This came as a complete shock to me. Your self-perception changes in an instant from that of healthy adult to someone with a serious progressive and potentially fatal condition.”

Meanwhile, her son Jonathan Kalmakoff was diagnosed with the inherited PKD.

“His kidney disease progressed more rapidly than mine,” said Pollock. By the time Jon was in his mid-forties, he was in complete kidney failure and starting dialysis. He immediately began the long and tedious process of getting on the transplant list.

Kim Hladun stepped forward “with a generous offer to be tested.” After extensive testing, Kim and Jon were found to be a match. Unfortunately COVID-19 struck, and the program was put on hold.

But as was reported in the Canora Courier, the program briefly reopened, but for deceased donors only. Jon was fortunate enough to receive a kidney from a deceased donor.

“In the days following this transplant, Kim again stepped forward and offered to be tested for me,” said Pollock. “I had gone through all of my initial testing when the program was shut down. I was trying hard not to feel hopeless. Kim's offer made a world of difference, in realizing that there was indeed hope. When the transplant program finally reopened in late 2021, my previous tests were all outdated and had to be repeated. With my nursing background, I understood processes; but, being with Jon as he went through the journey made it all real for me.”

In late 2021 Pollock was deemed a suitable candidate, and placed on a waiting list to have her large polycystic left kidney removed to make room for a transplant.

“This took place in January 2022. Meanwhile, Kim and I were tested and found to be a match. I had been on dialysis since April 2019 when I was in complete kidney failure.”

Pollock said she was fortunate to be able to do peritoneal dialysis at home for the first two-and-a-half years through COVID.

“This requires having a catheter surgically inserted in the abdomen. Fluid exchange is then done four times each day to help remove wastes, which would normally be removed by functioning kidneys. This process worked well for me, although it was very time consuming and required adherence to a strict routine.”

The next step was a change to hemodialysis done in a hospital as she healed.

“Hemodialysis is done with blood cleansing by being connected to a machine with filters,” said Pollock.

“For the first few weeks, this meant three weekly trips to Regina, in winter, until I got a place in Yorkton. This form of dialysis worked well but required sitting in the dialysis chair for four-plus hours each treatment.”

Pollock said she took advantage of those long hours by reading numerous books.

“Dialysis staff were excellent and helped the process to go smoothly.”

Surgery date set

Less than a month beforehand, Pollock was given a kidney donation surgery date of April 25, 2023.

“I was in disbelief, after a four-year journey,” said Pollock. “I didn't actually believe it until I woke up from the surgery! The surgery went amazingly well. My new kidney started functioning immediately before I left the operating room. The kidney has functioned well all along with no signs of rejection. This requires taking several anti-rejection medications daily.”

Not surprisingly, sharing the process with Kim Hladun turned into a memorable experience.

“Going through this journey with Kim has been amazing,” said Pollock. “We have become very close, and she is the sister I never had. Support of family and friends through the journey has been vital. My husband, Thom Carnahan, has been a rock, driving me to appointments and treatments these past five years.”

A year after the operation, Pollock said she is doing well.

“My first few months after the transplant were plagued with issues related to my remaining right polycystic kidney. It was very enlarged with cysts, putting pressure on my abdomen and causing severe digestive issues. I finally had this kidney surgically removed in December of 2023 and have been well since. My new kidney functioned well throughout.”

As someone with first-hand experience, Pollock has valuable advice for anyone with kidney disease.

“I would advise you to remain positive and never lose hope. Anyone who is considering being a donor is contemplating giving the gift of life – a huge and generous consideration.

“I would ask everyone to consider signing their donor consent on their driver's license and to inform family of your decision. I want to be an advocate for organ donation so that other people requiring a transplant can experience the marvelous gift of life.”

‘Why not share my spare?’

Kim Hladun’s link to Oney Pollock began when she was having the workup done to donate a kidney to Oney’s son Jon.

“I found out that Oney was also going to be in need of a kidney in the near future,” said Hladun.

When Jon was blessed with a kidney from a deceased donor, Hladun came to a realization. “I feel that his donor was a gift so that I could donate to his Mom, giving them both a quality of life without dialysis. I had already decided that if things didn’t turn out to donate to Jonathan, I would get tested to donate to Oney since we both had the same blood type and a very good chance of being a match.”

Hladun said she had been acquainted with Pollock and her family since moving to Canora in the 1980s.

“It’s a small world as her Mom was my Grade 2 teacher. Donating to Oney was a way of giving back to her mom, Mrs. Pollock, for the education she gave me.”

Ever since finding out that a neighbour was in need of a kidney a number of years ago, Hladun said she was determined to make the effort to be a donor.

“I decided that if I were a match for someone that I knew, then this was definitely something I was meant to do, ‘cause what are the chances we would be a match?

“It hit home for me that this could be a member of my family in need and I would hope that someone would step up to be tested to be a living donor,” continued Hladun. “To me it was kind of a no-brainer. I have two kidneys and only need one, so why not share my spare?

“Before my Mom passed away, during one of our conversations she said that if she were to have another chance at life – she would become a nurse so that she could help others. That has stuck with me! So in honour of my mom, I live my life doing good deeds to make others’ days brighter by doing random acts of kindness and expecting nothing in return.”

Knowing what to expect

In order to even be considered as a kidney donor, a person has to have a clean bill of health. This means no serious health conditions, medications, be in fair physical condition and so on.

Pollock and Hladun had a blood test on the same day to see if they were a match.

“Once I found out that I was a match there was once again months and months of intense testing, family history, appointments, interviews, and a few hiccups along the way,” said Hladun. “Some of the tests that had been done during my workup for Jon were still OK and others were dated and needed to be redone. The majority of these tests needed to be done in either Regina or Saskatoon, so it is definitely a commitment. My team went over and reviewed all of the results with a fine-toothed comb. If there was anything that they weren’t sure of or happy about, it would be flagged for a repeat test. My team was only concerned about my health and safety both before, during, and after the surgery.”

The day before the surgery, the recipient and the donor had to be in Saskatoon and test negative for COVID.

“Once we both got our calls that we were negative, the excitement of finally having the surgery set in,” said Hladun. “The morning of the surgery I had to be at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon at 6 a.m. for my scheduled 9 a.m. surgery that was expected to last four to five hours. I walked into the operating room and got introduced to the entire team that was in the room and told what all of their roles were during the surgery.

“Once I laid on the table I said, ‘Let’s do this’ I was ready to help Oney have a better quality of life! According to the medical team, both of our surgeries went extremely well and we were both in and out of the OR in around four hours. 

“We were the talk of the floor the next day that we were the ‘A Team’ surgery due to how smoothly it all went. Oney’s new kidney started working while still in the OR soon after it was connected. The day after our surgeries, I went to visit Oney so that we could celebrate and see how each other was doing.”

Hladun said nothing about the whole donation worried her or led to any doubt about the decision to donate.

“I was well educated on the entire process and what to expect before, during and after the surgery. The only thing that was a concern to me was to not test positive for COVID and have to have the surgery cancelled. “

The surgery took place just in time so that Hladun was recovered in time for her son’s wedding in late June, 2023.

She reports that the actual recovery process went smoothly.

“My surgery was on Wednesday morning and I was discharged Saturday morning. I could have been discharged the day before but I decided to stay another day since I was worried about the rough ride home on our Saskatchewan highways.

“Once I got home it was time to recover. My discharge instructions were to walk daily, drink lots of water and rest. Easy! Just two weeks after my surgery I walked the 5K Royal Road Race in Regina (that I was supposed to be running) and at the beginning of June I took part in the Kidney Walk in Regina to raise money for the cause, promote awareness, but most importantly to support the people who have friends or family with kidney disease/failure.”

As is the case after most major surgeries, Hladun said it took a few months “to feel like myself.”

She has a simple message for anyone thinking of donating a kidney.

“Just do it! I would do it again in a heartbeat – no regrets.”

Advocating organ donation

After going through the experience of kidney donation, like Oney Pollock, Hladun wants to become an advocate.

“I want to be an advocate for living kidney donors to educate people of the opportunity to help someone regain their normal lifestyle. Most, like I was, are unaware that the living donor program exists. If you are not a match to become a direct donor there is also a Paired Exchange Program where your pair (you and your recipient) go into a pool. The donor would donate to another recipient and in exchange their donor would donate to your recipient based on being matches. Sometimes the paired program can benefit several different pairs, so it’s a win-win for many recipients.  There is not enough awareness about the Living Donor Program so that needs to be changed!”

In just a few days in the transplant ward at the hospital, Hladun said she and her husband met many great people and learned a lot about organ donation.

“I was not aware that only a small percentage of people who have signed their donor cards for when they pass away actually become donors. The majority of organs harvested for donation come from either drowning or suicide victims that have been on life support, with very few being from accidents. These organs need to be harvested and transplanted very quickly, which is why recipients need to be able to get to the hospital on short notice.”

Hladun has come up with her own unique way of spreading the word.

“I have started painting rocks to expand awareness about organ donation. My plan is to leave a rock or two on every vacation we take, every race that I go to and other random destinations. The rocks have various messages written on them with a note on the back or card left with them that says, ‘Please post where you found the rock to the FB Page ‘Donate Life Rock Painting’ and relocate the rock to a different location along your travels to help spread awareness.”

For more information on the Saskatchewan Kidney Walk 2024, visit