Qualicum First Nation Chief Michael Recalma is grateful to have his community stand with him as he waits for a kidney transplant.
In 2018, Recalma first felt unwell but initially assumed he had the flu. His wife Sharon urged him to get looked at and they went to see a community nurse. They learned his blood pressure was “through the roof” and he was at risk of having a stroke.
Recalma was quickly taken to the emergency room at NRGH, where it was confirmed he had kidney failure. He was then taken to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, where he learned he required a kidney transplant and would need continued dialysis until one became available.
While at St. Paul’s, Recalma lost his vision and the reason for it remains unknown. After multiple visits with specialists, his vision did return, fortunately the only time it happened since his diagnosis.
For the past two years, Recalma has settled into performing home dialysis with his wife. They trained for a week to learn how to operate the dialysis machine and what to do in case of emergencies, such as the power going out.
Sharon recalls a time when she didn’t know what to do, and had to remind herself to stay calm and just to refer to the equipment manual. There is also a number to call if they require further assistance. While doing dialysis at a centre only takes four hours, at home they’ve configured it to nine hours and have the equipment perform while Recalma is asleep.
Recalma said he’d learned “a lot about blood and how it makes him feel.” He’s kept a journal noting his blood work, to find a pattern and correlation to his overall well-being.
Living through a global pandemic has created problems for many people, especially those at high-risk. This has impacted Recalma primarily with the delivery of his dialysis materials once a month.
Previously the delivery person would bring all the boxes inside his home, but since the beginning of COVID, cannot enter any patient’s home and must leave the boxes outside. These deliveries have resulted in 35 to 40 boxes that somehow need to be transferred from the truck to Recalma’s home. Fortunately, the community has stepped up and local children help Recalma each month by bringing the boxes inside.
Recalma has served as the elected chief of the Qualicum First Nation for six years, overseeing management and administration such as health care, housing, employment and daycare. He also manages the Qualicum First Nation Campground in Qualicum Beach.
He takes his duties very seriously and sometimes will push himself. The staff members he works with look out for him though, and if they don’t think he’s doing well, will tell him to go home. If he doesn’t listen, they’ll call his wife and tell her to come and get him.
The support Recalma has received from the community has been “uplifting.”
Sharon is part of the Belly Laughs Navel Academy, and they have provided needed support for her as well. During the 2019 Kidney Walk, the belly dancers of Belly Laughs Navel Academy danced through the entire walk in support of Recalma, his wife and his journey.
In Recalma’s culture, it is important to burn your clothes when an important event happens in your life. He had performed this ritual after completing hemodialysis in a medical centre and could start prepping for at home dialysis. When he had been going in centre for his treatment, he was instructed to wear the same clothes every time so they could accurately weigh him. When he was done this, these were the clothes he chose to burn.
The ritual consisted of five individuals (in Recalma’s case, five women), four to represent the north, east, south and west directions and one to place his clothes in the fire. The chief prefers to keep the identity of the women private but said that “they quietly know who they are, and smile to themselves.”
Each woman also signified a different and important part of his medical journey, not just related to Recalma specifically.
“It was time to close that chapter and move on to the next one.”
Recalma is on the transplant list for a cadaveric, or deceased, donor but was advised it can take several years before a kidney becomes available. His doctors suggested he explored a living kidney donation as an alternative and reach out to his family. To date, all his immediate family have been checked but for one reason or another were not a good match.
Part of the complication comes from Recalma’s blood type being O positive, where as he can only accept a kidney from someone with blood type O, negative or positive. He said that “usually this universal blood type are donors, and not receivers.”
For information, visit transplant.bc.ca or kidney.ca. The kidney foundation also has mentors who have donated a kidney, and can chat with you about their experience. Call 1-866-390-PEER (7337).