Calgary man in need of new kidney uses billboards to inspire donors

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A Calgary shop teacher has turned his desperate hunt for a new kidney into a roadside attraction, buying ad space on local billboards to inspire donors to come forward.

The ads feature a photo of Ryan McLennan and his wife Shakina with their arms around a dog. The image of the smiling couple is accompanied by a request for a living donor, McLennan’s blood type, a phone number and the name of a Facebook group.

The 42-year-old with chronic kidney disease said his kidney has deteriorated to nearly six per cent of its normal function since an infection took hold in recent weeks.

McLennan, who married his wife just two months ago, said buying the billboard ads between Calgary and Edmonton was her idea.

“She has come up with so many crazy ideas . . . to try to find someone who may be interested in stepping forward,” he told CTV Calgary on Tuesday.

Five family members have also put window decals with similar messages on their vehicles to grab more attention.

Publicizing McLennan’s situation in such a dramatic way has not been easy for him. But the couple feel they have to do everything they can to overcome this potentially life-threatening situation.

“I don’t care. I just . . . I need help,” McLennan said. “We just had to come up with something creative where we could get as many people to see that I need help.”

McLennan’s condition was first revealed in 2002. He noticed he was often tired, but figured it had to do with working night shifts and long hours at the time. A physical exam indicated high-blood pressure. Further tests determined his kidneys were failing. McLennan’s mother donated one of her kidneys to her son that year.

“I didn’t really realize what I was getting,” he admits. “I didn’t realize that what I was getting was so hard to get and hard to find.”

McLennan’s current search for a new kidney started nearly two years ago. He said his job teaching shop at Father Lacombe High School has become more difficult as his condition worsens.

“I really have to focus on being steady,” McLennan said.

So far, three billboard ads have been purchased in Edmonton, Calgary and along the Queen Elizabeth II Highway. The first went up about a week ago. They have yielded some responses, but McLennan is not yet sure if any are suitable donors.

“They’ll phone us up and they want to know about our story, and they want to help us,” he said. “We’re dealing with the Kidney Foundation and they send our packages to those people. But because we’re not right involved with helping those people fill out those packages, helping them take it to the blood clinic, helping them doing that kind of stuff, we don’t really know where the process is at.”

McLennan said he hopes those who respond will be able to help others in his position if they don’t match with him. For now, he’s grateful to be surrounded by a supportive family.

“It’s all about support,” he said. “I never realized it, but everything is about the support of your family and the support of your friends.”

With a report from CTV Calgary’s Brad MacLeod

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