100 Miles a Day – A Cyclist’s Story of Kidney Disease

July 29, 2015 – There were days when Joseph Kollar logged 100 miles of cycling. The 67-year-old didn’t take up cycling until after his kidney transplant and once he got the green light from doctors, it became an activity he pursued whole-heartedly.

“I bought a road bike from Hudson’s Bay,” he recalls. “On the weekend I hopped on the bike and was just going to go for a little ride. I went all the way to Lockport.” By the time he returned his family was in a state of worry out looking for him, and Kollar had developed a new passion.

His nephrologist at the time, Dr. John Jeffrey, was more than encouraging. “I told him I had done 100 kilometres in one day and he said ‘how about 100 miles’,” Kollar laughs.

Born in Bratislava, in what was then known as Czechoslovakia (currently Slovakia), Kollar and his family immigrated to Canada in 1969 during political unrest. “We had an opportunity and our family just packed up and left with less than a suitcase each.”

Learning English along the way, Kollar eventually built a career in finance. In 1974 he says a bout of strep throat left him with little kidney function.

“I felt tired and run-down. I attributed this to a recent bad cold and extremely sore throat,” he explains. “My condition persisted and in addition, my ankles began to swell. “ He received a diagnosis of kidney failure and had to start peritoneal dialysis immediately. Kollar eventually had to switch to hemodialysis and then moved to home hemodialysis. During this time Kollar forged a lifelong friendship with Dr. Ashley Thompson, known in Manitoba as ‘the father of nephrology’ and for building Manitoba’s first dialysis machine.

In 1977 Kollar received a kidney transplant and that’s when the passion for cycling began. He believes keeping active has contributed to his ability to stay healthy. While Transplant Manitoba estimates the average kidney transplant to last between 15 and 20 years today, Kollar’s transplant lasted for 37 years.

In 2013, his kidney started losing function and he ended up back on dialysis. He now does hemodialysis at Health Sciences Centre once again and is looking at using home dialysis in the future.

Always an advocate, Kollar has logged thousands of kilometres competing in fundraising races including 100-mile days, and joining several people who were biking across Canada to raise awareness about kidney disease and organ donation.

In 1995 he joined Suzanne MacLean, a young dialysis patient, who cycled from B.C. to Newfoundland to raise awareness about organ donation. He recalls MacLean getting discouraged after a fall when they were riding to Kenora. “I said to her, ‘even if you quit right now you have more miles than the Tour de France riders.’”

In 2012, he joined Quebec medical student Quinn Thomas who was also riding across Canada to raise awareness about organ donation.

While he hasn’t logged a 100-mile day while his body is re-acclimating to dialysis, Kollar heads out to cycle Birds Hill Provincial Park a few times a week. If all goes well, he may join Dale Calibaba – a B.C. dialysis patient cycling from Newfoundland to B.C. this summer – for a portion of his trip. Kollar and Dr. Thompson (who passed away in 2013) were also frequent visitors to Transplant Manitoba’s Garden of Life at Assiniboine Park where Kollar still volunteers, tending the garden.

Not only is Kollar a wealth of information having seen the evolution of our kidney health program over the past 40 years, he is a great role model when it comes to living an active lifestyle and is a constant advocate for organ donation.

Joseph Kollar will be speaking at our Welcome Celebration for Dale Calibaba happening July 30 at 12:30pm in St. Boniface Hospital’s Sisters’ Garden.