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From Cancer to Kidney Transplant: a Journey of Perseverance and Positivity

Dario Volante and spouse
A diagnosis of COVID-19 can be frightening, but so can one of cancer. Dario Volante, a 58-year-old retired optician, unfortunately experienced both—consecutively.

At a standard checkup during his recovery from COVID-19, doctors discovered Dario had kidney cancer, which ultimately led to the removal of the organ. Having lost the majority of his other kidney years ago also due to cancer, Dario required dialysis until he could receive a transplant.

Thankfully, his kidney cancer was detected in its early stages, and it had not spread. Though this was good news, it still left Dario with feelings of uncertainty and resistance to the major lifestyle changes that come with losing a kidney and starting dialysis. Fresenius Kidney Care Essex County Dialysis Center in Saugus, Massachusetts, where he trained for home hemodialysis (HD), wasn’t the place he wanted to be at first, but he quickly noticed the atmosphere was friendly and warm, and nothing like the hospital setting he expected. There he was met with constant support and patience and learned how to be successful and independent with home treatment.

With a new perspective and treatment plan for the foreseeable future, he set his sights on 2 major goals—preparing for a kidney transplant and finding a donor.

Following a Road Map to Success

Dario was motivated to get on the transplant registry as soon as possible. This process can sometimes be a lengthy one for cancer patients due to the time it can take to ensure there is no recurrence of cancer before or after receiving the transplant. Fortunately, this was not the case for Dario.

“I got lucky in the sense that because they caught it so quickly at the beginning stages, they found no progress whatsoever, so they allowed me to do it sooner,” Dario remembers. “So as soon as I could, I got myself on the registry.”

Of course, getting on the transplant registry is no simple feat. Patients seeking to get on the list are frequently monitored through doctors’ appointments and testing to ensure they’re remaining healthy and that their body will be able to accept a new organ. A common standard that patients need to meet is an appropriate body weight. While on dialysis, Dario was required to lose a significant amount of weight to be eligible for the transplant. He also needed to prevent his blood pressure from becoming too high—something he experienced prior to his weight loss, but always maintained with medication.

“The big thing was going for constant tests,” Dario says. “They are always looking for things to make sure nothing goes wrong. That ties up a lot of your time—blood work, doctors’ appointments sometimes 2 or 3 times a week. And there’s always a personal anxiety that something could go wrong. But I’m a chill person, I deal with things as they come up.”

Keeping It in the Family

It wasn’t long after solidifying his spot on the registry that Dario reached out to his friends and family to inform them of this important step he had taken. He expected a response of love and support, but he didn’t think it would come in the form of a willing donor among them, or that the donor would be someone so close to him—his younger sister.

“She right away said, ‘Hey, let’s see if my kidney works,’” Dario recalls. Sure enough, after proper screening and testing, his sister discovered that she met the requirements of a donor who would ensure the greatest likelihood for a successful transplant for Dario.

Dario feels beyond lucky to have received a donor at all, even more so to have found one as quickly as he did. Full of gratitude, he felt the finish line to dialysis was within reach.

Playing the Waiting Game with Persistence and Wisdom

The time leading up to the transplant, when Dario was administering his own dialysis at home, he describes as a “delicate teetering” of how he chose to spend his time. He was very mindful that a number of things—like catching a common cold—could potentially throw him off-track in his journey to transplant and require him to go through the screening processes again.

But he didn’t let it stand in the way of doing the simple things he loves with his wife.

“I lived my life as if I knew it was in the background and it was going to happen, but we still did things,” Dario said. “We went out to get coffee, we went to the ocean. It wasn’t going to stop us, we still had to live. That’s why I’m such a big fan of home hemodialysis. I could just continue to live while I waited for the transplant.”

Dario’s positive attitude toward his circumstances is no coincidence, but rather the result of a lesson learned after seeing both of his parents battle and pass away from cancer. He recalls his father’s observations about the visitors he would receive during that time. “I heard my father say ‘Everybody is depressed when they come to see me, I just want someone to come in and tell me a joke,’” Dario recalls. “Knowing that, I said I’m going to go through this with a little different of an attitude.”

This flexible and lighthearted approach came in handy especially when Dario’s transplant was postponed for 2 months due to the number of backlogged surgeries in the hospital system as a result of the pandemic. Nonetheless, he continued to watch his weight and blood pressure, go to all his appointments, and stay confident that he was on the path to receive his transplant.

A New Chapter Begins

Following a successful kidney transplant in August 2021, Dario looks back at his days on dialysis and the transplant process as a powerful reminder to take each day one step at a time.

“The first 3 months after the transplant, you kind of start getting your life back,” Dario reports. “Doctors’ visits eventually become every month instead of every week, although labs are still weekly for me. But I’m feeling great and feel like I can do anything I want.”

Despite being successfully transplanted, some habits from his days on dialysis have stuck with him, especially pertaining to his diet. Being mindful of the quality of foods he consumes is second nature to him now, avoiding junk food especially because he was taught the impact it can have on kidneys—although he does admit to sneaking the occasional Kit Kat.

Dario’s primary care partner, his wife, has also benefited from his added freedoms.

Traveling together has always been a favorite hobby of theirs, and one that’s become a lot easier to do post-transplant. One small caveat entails limiting travel to more local destinations to stay within reach of his care team—a precaution only necessary for a reasonable amount of time after the operation. With this guidance in mind, they were inspired to take their most recent excursion—a road trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where they vacationed near the water.

Dario’s ambitions go beyond just travel. He’s considering coming out of retirement to go back to work in optometry or possibly starting a new business. He also stays in touch with one of the home therapy nurses who trained him for home HD—Gia Cardarella, RN—and offers to talk to anyone at the center going through dialysis and struggling or thinking about a transplant.

“I tell everybody who’s sick and going through things, keep a positive attitude—don’t stop life,” advises Dario. “Just keep living life. Life’s too short.”

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“She just called me one day and said ‘Dad, I’m a match.’”

—Ron, received transplant in 2018
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