This bulldog needs a kidney

Michael Kaltenmark has made a number of visits to IU Health Riley Hospital for Children. His sidekick the Butler Bulldog mascot always accompanies him when he visits young patients. But now, Kaltenmark is spending time at IU Health University Hospital where he is on a wait list for a kidney transplant.

It was two former IU Health doctors who made the connection that may have saved Michael Kaltenmark’s life. A medication prescribed by another provider for Kaltenmark’s Crohn’s disease was having a negative impact on his kidneys.

It was in the late 1990s when Kaltenmark became symptomatic with Crohn’s disease, an inflammation of the digestive tract.

“I was on prescription meds that weren’t monitored properly by a different health system but fortunately I was referred to IU Health,” said Kaltenmark, 39. Nephrologist Michael A. Kraus and gastroenterologist Debra Helper intervened.

“I owe them so much. They got me turned around. I’d hate to think where I’d be without them,” said Kaltenmark.

A 2002 graduate of Butler University, Kaltenmark received his undergraduate degree in journalism and public relations. In 2016 he received a Master Degree in Effective Teaching and Leadership through the university’s College of Education. He began working at Butler in 2002. In his role as Director of External Relations, Kaltenmark is the handler for the Butler Bulldog mascot.

These days, Kaltenmark jokes that he needs a handler.

Last month after reaching out on social media – sharing his need for a kidney, Kaltenmark was overwhelmed by the response. His original tweet was reposted 839 times and received 731 likes. His Facebook post was shared 528 times and his Instagram post received 348 likes.

“For the bulldog that’s nothing, but for me it’s pretty neat,” said Kaltenmark.

In December 2018 IU Health nephrologist Dr. Nupar Gupta told Kaltenmark his kidney function had declined. Diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney failure, he began the process of preparing for a kidney transplant.

“Kidney transplant is considered the best treatment option for people facing kidney failure because it can generally increase the quality and length of a patient’s life. Ideally, the transplant would occur before the patient needs dialysis therapy,” said Dr. Gupta. “Success depends on health prior to transplant, care after transplant, and closely following doctors’ recommendations after the transplant.” Kaltenmark is also under the care of gastroenterologist Dr. Monika Fischer, and primary care physician Dr. Andy R. Dillingham, a Butler fraternity brother. His transplant coordinator is Shannon Gruber.

“Michael is very engaged in his care and working towards his kidney transplant.

Research has shown that patients who get a kidney from a living donor have kidney function longer than patients who get a kidney from a deceased donor,” said Dr. Gupta.

Dr. Gupta added that kidney damage is rare in patients taking sulpha medications for Crohn’s disease. Renal impairment may occur in up to one in 100 patients treated with 5-ASA, but clinically significant damage would occur in only one in 500 patients, she added. In most cases, renal failure is caused by an acute or chronic allergic reaction in the kidneys, which is unrelated to the 5-ASA formulation and dose.

“I feel like any care I am receiving now is a derivative of where I started. They all work together. It’s all integrated into a holistic approach to my medical needs. I feel like the right hand knows what the left hand is doing because they communicate so well,” said Kaltenmark. “I’ve found that once you are listed as a transplant patient, as soon as you show up and they recognize that, they are super efficient at getting you through.”

Since his initial posts, Kaltenmark has received hundreds of phone calls, texts, and private messages.

“I have people stopping me when I’m waiting on my son to get off the school bus,” said Kaltenmark, who is married to Tiffany and the father of Everett, 8 and Miles, 4. “The outpouring of support has been amazing. If I didn’t feel loved after that week, I certainly do now. I’ve been amazed at how selfless people have been. It speaks to how great people are and how kind they are and it also speaks to the notion that when we are in times of need we should speak up, get out of our comfort zone.”

Kaltenmark grew up in Wabash, IN. the third son of Jim and Shari Kaltenmark. To date, his brothers Randy and Doug are among the perspective kidney donors.

The circle of support has been wide – including friends from his hometown; his church – Traders Point Christian; Butler; and the Indianapolis community.

The US Government on Organ Donation and Transplantation reports more than 113,000 people were on the transplant waiting list as of January 2019. Of that number 83.4 percent were waiting for a kidney transplant.

“My part in this is done. Now we wait for all the testing to find a match,” said Kaltenmark. “I didn’t realize my posts would result in so many responses and that’s great. I think we’ll find a match and a really cool result is we’re bringing attention to the need for living donation. It would be great if someone came forward for me who isn’t a match but wants to be an altruistic kidney donor.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email