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Coquitlam SAR volunteer in need of kidney stunned by offers from strangers

Last Updated Jun 11, 2019 at 6:56 pm PDT


Coyle was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) 20 years ago

Complete strangers and members of other search and rescue teams have offered to be tested to see if they're a match

COQUITLAM (NEWS 1130) – Complete strangers are coming forward, offering to help a man now facing kidney failure who has spent his life rescuing others.

Michael Coyle, a Coquitlam Search and Rescue manager, was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) 20 years ago and since then his kidneys have been slowly filling up with cysts.

Coyle says the disease is genetic, and he first realized he was sick when learning to do blood pressure checks during search and rescue training.

“Me and a partner were taking blood pressure and a nurse came to check if we were doing it right. She said you need to see the doctor.”

Most who are at risk of PKD know, because their blood family has it. But Coyle was adopted, and had no idea.

“You inherit this gene and basically what happens is cysts grow in your kidneys and slowly squeeze out the healthy tissue and reduce the kidney function over time,” he says.

Now 50, Coyle was diagnosed at 30, and says at first he didn’t feel the effects.

“You do what people call extreme sports sometimes, mountaineering , rock climbing, back-country skiing – I just went ahead and did those things, kept working as a SAR volunteer. You can live with this disease in the early stages and barely feel a thing.”

But in recent years he began to feel more fatigued, and in 2015 registered with a transplant clinic. A week ago, things started to go downhill.

“The loss of more kidney function puts me in just above failure. They said now’s the time to go and try and line up a donor. Kidney failure clinically, I think, is having a GFR of 15 and mine was 16 at the last blood test,” Coyle says.

Without a donor he will be on dialysis within 18 months, so his wife and half sister stepped forward to be tested – but the clinic said it’s not enough.

“The recommendation from the transplant clinic is not to have just one or two people. [There are] lots of reasons why people wouldn’t be a candidate – transfusions, blood types, tissue types. They said it’s important for you to get a larger pool. So I had a few family members register to be donors, and they said two is not very many.”

But to Coyle’s surprise, complete strangers and members of other search and rescue teams who have heard about his condition have also offered to be tested, to see if they’re a match. The first to offer reached out on Facebook.

“She was a stranger to me, but she just kind of approached me on Facebook and said ‘Hey, I’m thinking about donating a kidney to you,'” Coyle says. “It brought tears to my ears that an utter stranger would just come up and say ‘Here, I want to do this selfless thing for you.'”

Since that first message, other SAR members have come forward offering to be tested.

“In a sense, I feel like I’m being rescued,” he says. “This brave, selfless expression of community. And then I thought, the people we rescue, maybe that’s what they’re feeling.”

He says as the disease progresses, he’s becoming more and more fatigued and is unable to do the SAR work he loves.

“My partner picks up all the slack in the evenings. More and more fatigue involves me stepping back from the SAR work. I really can’t be in the field anymore because I’m just a hazard to you guys.”

While waiting for a match, Coyle says he will spend his time raising awareness about PKD. He hopes his story will push the B.C. government to consider bringing presumed consent for organ donation to the province.