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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Retired Norwich police officer in need of a kidney hopes to find 'an angel'

    Mark Kalinowski walks his black labs Cadence and Nahji near his Norwich home Friday, June 4, 2021. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich — At first, retired Norwich police officer Mark Kalinowski’s story seems like any other person’s year of COVID-19, with personal problems added to the weight of the pandemic.

    “Worried about medical stuff. Worried about financial stuff,” he said, summing up his past year. “And we had to put down three cats.”

    But for Mark and his wife, Dianne, this was different.

    During Memorial Day weekend of 2020, Mark Kalinowski felt achy, tired, had a fever and sniffles. Everyone figured it was COVID-19, but he tested negative. His daughter, Alysha, a critical care nurse at Backus Hospital, called his primary care physician and asked for a series of specific tests.

    The day after the tests, Kalinowski’s doctor called and said to meet him at Backus to be admitted. Kalinowski was in kidney failure.

    Kalinowski, 59, physically active and satisfied with his second career as a mortician at the Church & Allen & Labenski Funeral Homes in Norwich, was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that can attack various organs, in Kalinowski’s case, both his kidneys.

    Kalinowski spent 23 days at Backus undergoing numerous treatments, including plasmapheresis, kidney biopsy, chemotherapy to "reset" his immune system and hemodialysis. His kidney function had fallen to 2%, he said.

    Kalinowski is out of the hospital and now is a patient in the transplant unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, part of Boston Medical Center.

    His daily life has been altered dramatically.

    He is on family disability from his job, with one-third pay. He cannot lift anything above 20 pounds and tires easily. He was cleared to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and did. His immune system has rebounded, so he no longer has to be “a complete germaphobe.” He walks his two black Labrador retrievers daily as his main source of exercise and enjoyment.

    Kalinowski cannot eat or drink items that contain phosphates, caffeine or high salt content. He is limited to no more than 1.5 liters of fluids of any kind per day — “a little more if I’m out doing something and sweating,” he said. Other than water, his preferred beverage is Crystal Light lemonade.

    And he must “plug in” to his peritoneal dialysis machine from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. The machine is connected by wifi to the hospital for daily monitoring. His dialysis fluid supplies arrive at his Norwich home by box truck every month. One neighbor recently asked if he was getting a load of furniture delivered.

    “I had to say, ‘No, these are my medical supplies,’” Kalinowski said. “Most people who get medicines delivered through the mail get them in a package, not a box truck.”

    Kalinowski had been spreading the word on Facebook that he was seeking a live kidney donation for the best prospects of long-lasting recovery. But seven people, including two strangers who saw his posts, who offered to donate a kidney proved not to be good matches after undergoing tests for suitability, Kalinowski said.

    He recently broadened his search to include a potential cadaver donor, adding his name to searches conducted by the Yale-New Haven and Hartford Healthcare hospital groups, as well as Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But he still would prefer a live donor.

    With his kidneys now functioning at 4%, Kalinowski is just continuing his daily routine and waiting. He attended a Jeep rally at the Hebron Fairgrounds a couple of weeks ago as a treat. He has watched YouTube videos on kidney transplant surgeries and occasional TV shows on the subject.

    “It’s my hope to get my story out as much as possible,” he said, “to try to find an angel.”

    Anyone who would like to help or has questions about being a living donor can contact registered nurse Karen Curreri, clinical transplant administrator at Boston Medical Center, at (617) 638-8368 or karen.curreri@bmc.org.

    Day Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich contributed to this report.


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