Ordinary guy does an extraordinary thing to bring hope and opportunity to the Pekar family
By Debra Downey, Senior Editor
After not feeling the emotion for a very long time, Arie Pekar’s boredom had never felt quite so sweet.
At 34 years old, Arie had been caught up in a seemingly endless routine that demanded he squeeze a little bit of living in between overwhelming fatigue and life-sustaining dialysis treatments. His days were shortened by disease. His ravaged body needed up to 14 hours of sleep a day, and Arie spent the remaining few hours hooked up to a dialysis machine.
There was no time for boredom; even fewer hours for running his own business and spending time with his beloved wife and infant son.
But on Feb. 20, Arie’s life changed. He’s a different man now, a different father and a different husband. He’s actually had the time to get bored.
“I’m amazed at the hours I’m seeing,” says Arie. “I have 400 per cent more time, and I am way more focused and efficient. Just the other day, I was bored. For the first time in a very long time, I was actually bored.”
• • •
Like many parents and their children, Arie and his mom have much in common. But unlike others, the familial bond included the need for kidney transplants. Arie and his mom, Ilana, both have polycystic kidney disease, which causes cysts to develop and interfere with the organ’s ability to filter waste from the blood.
Arie was diagnosed at age 21 with the inherited condition. Doctors were initially optimistic about the young man’s prognosis, but despite a healthy lifestyle and preventive treatments, the disease progressed.
Friends and family were tested and ruled out as potential kidney donors.
Although he didn’t look sick, Arie was not well. He was tired, nauseous and itchy. The cysts on his kidney sometimes ruptured, leaving Arie in excruciating pain and incapacitated for up to a week. Doctors recommended dialysis until a kidney transplant could be arranged.
Arie’s wife, Joy, told Hamilton Community News in January 2013 that although they were very private people, the Pekar family needed to come forward to tell others about the need to find kidneys for Arie and his mom.
“We are at a point where we need to share our story,” said Joy.
• • •
A precocious blue-eyed charmer, Benjamin Pekar sometimes keeps his devoted mom awake during odd hours of the night.
In mid-January 2014, the seven-month-old had finally nodded off in the afternoon. Mom stretched luxuriously under a blanket, grateful to snatch a few minutes of blissful rest.
The peace and tranquility of Joy’s afternoon nap were short-lived. Husband Arie was shaking her shoulder, and exuberance heightened his voice.
“Don’t make any plans for Feb. 20,” a breathless Arie told his wife.
A suitable donor had finally been found and an operating room was booked for Arie’s kidney transplant at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
“It was exciting,” said Joy. “I literally jumped out of bed. Really.”
• • •
The Pekars and Darren Kudlats have known each other for about 10 years. They move in similar social circles, both men operate small businesses and the families live just a street away from each other in the Huntingwood Avenue area of Dundas.
Darren knew of his buddy Arie’s need for a kidney. He knew others had been tested and deemed incompatible. Soft-spoken and unassuming, Darren had watched as Arie’s health steadily declined and as his friend’s joy in welcoming his first child was tempered with the cold, stark reality of starting dialysis.
By the fall of 2013, Darren’s mind was made up.
“I just decided to do it,” he said.
Darren travelled to St. Michael’s. He underwent blood work, an MRI, a CT scan and countless other tests to determine if he was a suitable match to donate a kidney to Arie.
In mid-January, while Joy was wrapped in the luxury of her siesta, Darren answered his telephone. It was St. Mike’s. He was cleared as a suitable donor.
The Pekars’ telephone rang not long afterward.
“I know Darren, and I knew he was committed if he was approved,” said Joy. “But I was very surprised that the surgery was booked for just 30 days away.”
• • •
Still a little sore from the Feb. 20 operation, Darren makes goofy faces and strange noises at the toddler sitting contentedly on his mom’s lap. Benjamin’s little round face lights up and his eyes twinkle with recognition.
Joy and Arie smile, too. The antics of the two most important people in their lives are precious, endearing and will never lose their lustre.
Uncle Darren knows all the tricks that will make little Benjamin gurgle with laughter.
“(Darren) has certain sound sets that we haven't quite managed to duplicate,” Joy says with a laugh.
At first, it was hard for the Pekars to see Darren struggle after the kidney transplant operation.
“You took a healthy person and made him sick, to help make a sick person healthy,” says Arie.
Right after the operation, Arie was making progress in leaps and bounds; Darren picked up a cough and experienced shortness of breath. But under the watchful eye and careful ministrations of hospital staff, both men were released much earlier than expected.
Arie and Darren are healing well. Darren has been given the OK to start lifting anything over 10 pounds and he’s looking forward to getting back to work at Valley Ridge Carpentry.
Arie will be monitored closely for a long time, but there are positive signs indicating he will once again resume the life that was disrupted 10 years ago.
“We’re going to be back on our feet by the summer,” says Arie. “We’ll be spending most of this month and the next month low key, but by summer, we’ll be up and running again.”
The Pekars and Darren are all looking forward to shedding the vestiges of a tedious winter and getting outdoors. Darren wants to go for a bike ride with his pal. Arie plans to throw a ball around the yard with his son. Joy wants to take her boys — junior and senior — to the park. Maybe Uncle Darren — the Pekar family’s hero — will occasionally pop by to join in the fun.
Darren has made the future possible for the Pekars. He has given Arie the opportunity to watch his son grow up, to accompany the little man on his first day of junior kindergarten, to coach Benjamin’s hockey team.
Has he earned the moniker of hero?
Darren is quick to respond.
Arie pipes in.
“It’s been said before that donors are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Anybody can do it. Darren is our family hero, but if you ask him, he will tell you he is just an ordinary guy who did an extraordinary thing.”