When his body began to reject the kidney he had received from a donor 18 years earlier, Dale Calibaba had to go back on dialysis. After living a normal life for almost two decades, he was suddenly visiting a clinic three times a week to get his treatment. He lapsed into a depression and, when his marriage collapsed under the strain, he hit rock bottom.

“That forced me to reflect on my life,” he says 10 years later. “I thought back to some time I had spent in the hospital as a teenager. I had seen a little girl in the cancer ward screaming at the top of her lungs, begging her mother not to let the doctors give her any more needles. That memory triggered something in me. I realized that I was fortunate despite having kidney disease. I was in a good place.”

“I made a decision to control my disease and not let it control me...”

Then and there, he decided to rebuild his life. “I made a decision to control my disease and not let it control me,” says Calibaba, who has Alport Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes numerous ailments including kidney failure. He started eating properly and exercising regularly. Thanks to a grant from the Shad Ireland Foundation, which is devoted to connecting, educating, and empowering individuals and families affected by kidney disease, a stationary bike was delivered directly to his home in Kamloops, B.C.

Home dialysis allowed Dale Calibaba (right), pictured with Haley Calibaba (left), to re-build his life and focus on what matters most.

Treatment from the comfort of home

Calibaba also started using a portable peritoneal dialysis cycler machine, which is one option for some patients to give themselves dialysis treatments at home or on the road. A portable hemodialysis system is also available to give hemodialysis patients a choice of performing their dialysis treatments in the comfort of their home, or while traveling. A portable system enables therapy to be tailored to both the individual patient’s clinical and lifestyle needs. Calibaba was so inspired by the improvement in his health and quality of life, he decided to embark on a journey to make a difference in other people’s lives who suffer from kidney disease. 

Earlier this year, the 46-year-old licensed security officer began a cross-Canada bike ride to encourage and inspire others living with kidney disease by educating them on the various options in therapy and encouraging them to take control of their treatments. After months of preparation, he started his journey in St. John’s, N.L. on June 1.

Hitting the highway

In the three months that followed, Calibaba rode about 120 kilometres a day, six days a week, along the Trans-Canada Highway, with the help of a crew that included his daughter, Haley. The ride was successful, despite a flat tire, one or two wrong turns, and a close encounter with an agitated pit bull along the way.

“We stuck to a routine,” he said. “I started each day with a steeped tea and breakfast at a Tim Horton’s then I rode for six to eight hours. I closed out the day with an ice bath to help me recover. I hooked up my PD cycler machine before I went to bed and it did its work while I was sleeping.”

When he encountered bad weather Calibaba zoned out to the music on his headphones and kept forging ahead. On his days off, he relaxed and occasionally met with government officials or attended events aimed at raising awareness not only of kidney disease but also organ donation.

Calibaba notes that while 90 percent of Canadians support the idea of donating organs, only 25 percent have registered as donors. Fewer people signing up to be organ donors results in longer wait times for those in need of a transplant. In his home province of British Columbia, for example, the wait time for a kidney is eight to nine years. Calibaba himself has been on the waiting list for almost ten.

But he refuses to let that slow him down. Calibaba finished his cross-country trek in Victoria, B.C. on September 4 but in his mind, and his life, the pedals are still turning.