Ted Puska has a new lease on life.
The Ladysmith resident, a well-known sports personality around Ladysmith and Chemainus, as well as his many years of employment at the Chemainus sawmill, underwent a long-awaited kidney transplant on May 20 that ended eight years of wondering and waiting when that day might finally arrive.
“I’m feeling great,” said Puska, now 68. “I feel like a new man.”
When Puska started dialysis a year and a half ago, he was down to 152 pounds. He’s now at a much healthier 162.
The uncertainty began for Puska at age 60, but his kidney function could well have been an issue years before that.
“By the time they realized what was going on, my kidney function was down to 30 per cent and I was already at Stage 3,” he said.
“It’s been eight years since the time they found out till I went under the knife.”
Puska worked a couple of more years after the diagnosis of his kidney failure and retired at age 62. His estimated glomerular filtration rate, a test that measures kidney function and determines the stage of kidney disease, was at about 24 per cent at that time and Stage 3.
Close monitoring continued for some time and “I got down to 10, most people go on dialysis at 10,” Puska indicated.
He could hardly walk three blocks without huffing and puffing after a while and when his kidney function dropped to six per cent, that was the end of the line and the start of dialysis could not be put off any longer.
The process for him began in October of 2019, with an eye toward getting a matching kidney donation for a transplant when one become available.
“When I got on dialysis that’s when you go on the list,” Puska explained. “When I put off dialysis, I was putting off getting a kidney.”
A neighbour who was actually the same blood type offered a kidney to Puska, but had to go through the process first to see if that could happen. When Puska got the call that a kidney was available a year and a half later, he wondered if it might be from the neighbour, but it turned out to be a cadaver kidney.
He could have waited for a live donor where the odds of acceptance from the body might be a bit better, but decided against it in agreement with wife Heather.
“We talked about it for about three minutes and we said we cannot turn this down,” said Puska.
The next day, he was at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and on the way to getting the surgery done. It took place in the early morning hours of May 20, a date that coincided with his youngest son Jeff’s anniversary. May 18 when he went into the hospital was also the date of his mom and dad’s anniversary for those who believe in karma.
Puska came through the surgery successfully, and then went nearly 24 hours without eating and limited water afterwards.
“Everything worked fantastic for me,” he said. “Sometimes the cadaver kidney they give you takes a while to get used to its new environment. Everything for me started working perfectly.”
Only five hours after Puska got back in the room following surgery, he went for a walk.
“The nurse goes with you to make sure you’re OK,” he pointed out. “She’s saying ‘slow down.’ I was motoring pretty good.”
After five days in hospital, Puska was back home and feeling fine ever since.
“They figure another month or so and I should be back to normal,” he said.
Because of COVID, Puska received some follow-ups by Zoom and is getting regular weekly blood tests in Nanaimo just to keep on top of things.
St. Paul’s will eventually pass on the follow-ups directly to Nanaimo once satisfied with his progress.
“If anything serious happened, if there was any problem, St. Paul’s would see me again,” Puska clarified.
He was prepared to wait longer for the kidney, but is glad it all worked out.
“It was probably five or six months earlier than what I thought so the phone call from them was actually kind of a shock,” Puska conceded.
He’s not taking anything for granted at this point, but hoping for the best in the long-term.
“If I get a good 12 years out of this new kidney and I get to be 80, who knows after that? You have no guarantees, but hope everything’s going to work out good.”
Puska has given up running, something he did extensively during his earlier years, in favour of walking.
“I’m at 15 minutes,” he said. “Hopefully, in a few months I’ll be back to 45-minute walks.”
Puska received substantial support from the community for medical expenses. For each $40 received, he put an entry into a draw for a Doug Bodger National Hockey League jersey from his own collection. The winning ticket pulled belonged to Paul and Marion Williams.
Ted and Heather decided to donate leftover funds to the B.C. branch of the Kidney Foundation.
“They treated us so good over there,” said Puska. “We thought we needed to give some financial support, too.”
While he was sitting in his St. Paul’s Hospital room, Puska thought about the long process finally being over, but actually a new chapter was just beginning.
“Eight years when we figured out there was something wrong till now,” he summed up. “Boy, that went fast.”