Shoeshine man gets ‘amazing’ tip of a lifetime — a new kidney

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Shoeshine guy and his donor

Shoeshine guy Pat Dardano sits with longtime customer Randy Haatvedt, who in 2012 donated a kidney to Dardano. (Kidney Foundation of Canada)

A Calgary shoeshine man got the best tip he could ever get from a longtime customer — a vital organ.

Pat Dardano had been shining Randy Haatvedt’s shoes at Pat’s Place inside 5th Avenue Place in Calgary since the late 1980s.

Then Haatvedt heard that Dardano had been diagnosed with a condition known as Wegener’s disease, which attacks the blood vessels and vital organs.

“Pat’s kidney disease had reached the point that maybe he was going to need to go on the transplant list,” said Haatvedt on The Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

“I’d been thinking there was maybe something more I wanted to do, when I heard Pat might need a kidney. I knew my blood type was O negative and thought, ‘Gee, maybe there’s a possibility here.'”

‘I was just shocked’

Haatvedt spoke to the living donor program people at Foothills hospital, who ran him through a series of tests, before determining that he was a match for Dardano.

Foothills told Haatvedt that one of the conditions was that he had to inform Dardano of his plan, which Haatvedt had initially been reluctant to do, because he was afraid of getting Dardano’s hopes up.

For months, he had been prying information out of Dardano without tipping him off — things like his last name, his blood type and the name of his doctor.

‘I couldn’t even talk for a few seconds.’ – Pat Dardano, on hearing a customer wanted to give him a kidney

Dardano chalked those little questions up to idle chatter between a client and himself — until one day in early 2012, when Haatvedt plopped himself onto a chair for a shoe shine.

“He said, ‘Pat, I want to get my shoes shined, but I also want to talk to you,'” said Dardano. “‘I phoned the living donor [program at Foothills Hospital] and told them I want to donate one of my kidneys to you.’

“I didn’t know what to say,” Dardano said. “I was just shocked. What do you say to that? I couldn’t even talk for a few seconds.”

At that point, Dardano’s health was failing. He’d had a seizure. He was on dialysis. He almost wasn’t able to work.

Anxiety struck on night before surgery

Thinking back to that fateful time in July 2012, Haatvedt — now 63 — says he had one brief moment, just before the transplant, where he wondered whether he was doing the right thing.

“It was about 90 minutes [long], the evening before the surgery was scheduled to be done,” Haatvedt said.

“We were checked into Foothills Hospital, all set to go, the tests are all done, no more compatability tests to be done, and for about an hour and a half that evening, I had a bit of an ‘Oh, my God, what have I gotten myself into’ moment?”

Nothing specific happened to prompt the doubt, he said — it was just an isolated moment of anxiety.

“After that it passed,” he said. “I got a good night’s sleep, was up the following morning — and away we went.”

‘It’s been amazing’

The donation took place.

Now, Dardano is back at Pat’s Place, which he’s been running for 32 years now, since he arrived in Canada from Italy in 1984.

“I’m back to work now. I can travel again. It’s been amazing — [I’m] pretty much normal,” said Dardano.

Dardano still shines Haatvedt’s shoes, and the duo regularly meet for coffee as well — and have dinner together every July 11, which is their transplant anniversary.

Both men are healthy today.

Sharing stories before Kidney March

They’re both sharing their story in advance of the Kidney March, a 100-km walk from Kananaskis Country to Calgary, which kicks off at 8 a.m. Friday in Millarville, just southwest of Calgary.

The march raises awareness and funds for research and support programs for people with kidney disease.

In its seven-year history, the Kidney March says it has raised more than $5 million.

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener

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Shoeshine man gets ‘amazing’ tip of a lifetime — a new kidney

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