NOOSA HEADS, Australia (AP) — When Dominique Duhme dives into a river canal among the thousands of starters at the Noosa Triathlon, he’ll achieve the first of two life-changing goals he set for himself when he decided to shed a significant amount of weight.
The second won’t come until early next year when he’s able to donate one of his two healthy kidneys to his wife, Karina, who been undergoing three five-hour dialysis sessions a week since an organ donated by her sister began to fail.
It was a big leap of faith: the Basel, Switzerland-born Duhme began training intensely at a Brisbane gym knowing that he had to drop the weight just to make him eligible to give one of his blood-cleansing organs to his wife. After two years, the couple is on the verge of turning their “one-in-a-million chance” into reality.
Duhme had no idea whether he’d even be compatible when he and his wife first consulted doctors about the transplant, and that there would be a large risk of the kidney being rejected even if the surgery could take place.
Duhme recalls the doctors telling him: “‘If you want to give her your kidney, you’ve got to lose 30 kilograms (66 pounds). Otherwise the surgeon won’t even look at you.'”
“And that basically did the trick for me,” he said.
A computer company consultant and co-owner in a catering business with his wife, Duhme has made time to fit training around a busy life and a strict diet.
The 40-year-old Duhme, as he prepares for his first triathlon at the Olympic distance on the first weekend of November, is far fitter and healthier than when this particular journey began.
And after competing in what he called several “baby tris (triathlons)” — swimming, cycling and running at shorter distances than the 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer cycle and 10-kilometer run — he’s looking forward to competing in one of Australia’s most popular multi-sport events and over the same distance that elite Olympians do.
Mark Vann, Duhme’s personal trainer, predicts his student will do well. “He is dedicated, highly-motivated and highly-driven,” says Vann.
Duhme stepped up his training a year ago when he and Karina, originally from Blackmore, England, got the best possible news: after extensive testing, it was determined he was not only an eligible donor, but just about ideal.
“It’s a million-to-one shot, and Karina never thought I’d be a perfect match,” Duhme said. “I went through the preliminary tests, we went through the cross-matching, then we had to wait four weeks. We got the email on a Monday morning in November of last year and it turned out I was even a better match than her sister was.
“My wife was floored. She was just sitting there, it was just like winning Lotto. To get a better match than a sibling, that’s very, very rare.”
Karina Duhme, 45, became ill with a strep throat when she was 20 and still living in England. Complications shut down both her kidneys, and her younger sister donated one of hers. Donated kidneys can often last up to seven or eight years, Karina says, but she had her sister’s for double that amount of time before it began to fail, necessitating the search for a new donor and forcing Karina to be on dialysis for the last nine months.
“We got a Christmas card not long after we got the good news, and the person said ‘We always knew you two were a perfect match’,” Karina says. “Exactly. So how wonderful is all this?”
If everything goes to plan, the couple, who met playing tennis and have been married for eight years, will go into a Brisbane hospital early in the new year, Dominique to lose a kidney, Karina to get a new one. A sublime example of one person’s loss turning out to be another person’s gain.
And their next goal is to both run next year’s Noosa Triathlon.
“I was on dialysis the other day — you have plenty of time to think sitting there for five hours at a time — and thought it would be a nice finish to all of this,” says Karina. “For me to get fit after the operation, to exercise together … Dom is so passionate about it. It would be his dream for us to run it together.”
Her husband concurs.
“A bit of a pilgrimage for the two of us,” he adds.