Fighting for his life while inspiring others
By Daniel Bushman/The Watrous Manitou
October 19th, 2015
After waiting for seven months and then finally receiving a kidney transplant over three decades ago, a Manitou Beach resident is faced with the same adversity once again. However, for artist and now author Michael Gaudet, he is not letting it deter him from his everyday life.
Driving to Saskatoon three times a week - over an hour each way - and then receiving dialysis treatments for four hours each time, Gaudet has been able to find a way to pass the time by writing his story. On days he is not getting treatment, the co-owner of G-G’s Gallery and Gifts has tried to continue his passion as an artist at home while waiting for a new kidney.
“It is pretty much full days Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” said Gaudet of his dialysis. “In the days in between, I don’t always feel that great but sometimes I am pretty good so I keep working.”
This past May, Gaudet was commissioned to create a pair of enormous murals for the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU). Looking forward to the opportunity to work during the summer, Gaudet was busy in his backyard creating the large project when he was not receiving dialysis treatment.
“It was great to get to do that. Some days it was a bit of a struggle because in the last six months or so I have had this issue with mental fogginess.”
While Gaudet figured the fogginess could be dialysis related, he said between coffee and the love of painting, the murals got done. “It was probably the most important mural commission of the year in Saskatchewan that I am aware of.”
Gaudet first heard about the call for the project from his friend and local artist Sarah McKen. “I dashed off like three sentences and a link to my mural painting portfolio and the communications director said once they saw my mural portfolio, which they had up on a big screen, they gravitated to it. They could see that I had the experience required to do this.”
Gaudet began work on the murals after being awarded the contract in May and it took about a month of back and forth dialogue to finalize the designs. “It was really interesting to work with SGEU for their insights. We had about a four hour meeting to decide on the specific trades.”
In order to complete the 22’ x 5’ and 24’ x 6’ foot murals, Gaudet built a 24’ x 10’ frame in his backyard. There he was able to put the panels up and begin creating. Michael also wanted to paint in natural light and not in a studio to keep the colors vibrant.
Once completed, the murals were picked up from his house near the middle of August and transported to Regina. “It was neat working in the backyard because during that time we would invite visitors to G-G’s down to see the murals in progress. It really created an interesting buzz and some people that came down were members of the union and they were excited to see it.”
The murals themselves feature a cross section of about nine different trades prominent in SGEU. Of those, Gaudet said the four most prominent were featured on the outside edges with their heads protruding over. “It was a combination of making sure we had the right trades but also my ideas of designing it.”
Now that the creations are done, Gaudet said they are going to be installed at SGEU headquarters in Regina.
“They will be permanently installed there but the most exciting part is they have been photographed and will be blown up for highway billboards.”
Overall, the artist ranked his latest project in his top three along with his work at a church in Saskatoon and a large mural for Young.
“As far as exposure goes, I think this one would rank number one. This pretty much establishes me as the go to guy for murals in western Canada I think. The phone could ring any day.”
Gaudet said he had not yet heard a firm date as to when the murals will be erected but anticipates it could be this fall.
While the big undertaking is finished, it was not easy as Gaudet continued to receive dialysis treatments for a second time in his life.
Gaudet was first diagnosed with chronic end-stage renal failure in Toronto back in 1979 where he was living and working. Michael was admitted to emergency in Sunnybrook Hospital and after surgery, Gaudet began dialysis the next day. “If I didn’t get in there that day, I probably would have died a few days later.”
After seven months of dialysis, Michael received a kidney transplant from his brother Steven on Oct. 17, 1979. “That pretty much ushered in a whole new life of health and vitality. I sustained myself and thrived with that transplant for over 34 years, which is a longevity record in Saskatchewan.”
However, in mid-May last year, Gaudet’s kidney finally had enough. “My doctor told me I had to start on dialysis to clean up to qualify for a second transplant.”
After resisting the urgent calls to go in, Gaudet finally elected to go ahead and in mid-May of 2014, began dialysis. Since then he has had to attend to dialysis three days a week for four hours each treatment or else die. “However, on the bright side I qualified for a deceased donor. The problem with that is it usually takes three to five years in order to get a donor.”
Not wanting to have to wait that long and continue to endure dialysis three times a week, Gaudet began advocating for his ‘earth angel’ - a living donor.
“What I am asking the world for is a living donor. My brother was a living donor in 1979 and now all these years later he is perfectly healthy with one kidney. He really stepped up and made a big sacrifice back in 1979 because the technology wasn’t where it is today . . . donors are back on their feet up and running within a month. The whole issue of the donor being in more discomfort than the recipient it is a thing of the past.”
With dialysis being a regular part of his life for the time being, Gaudet bought a laptop to keep busy during his treatments. “I proceeded to work on a long, slow sizzling project, which was my memoir.”
Transferring some of his already written memoir from paper to computer, after about a year Gaudet had the first of three books finished. He then began writing his second book, while seeking to publish the first. Part two was completed and while it has yet to be published, his first book: “Dancing With Rejection: A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality” is now available.
“The first book chronicles my early days as a wannabee young artist and then goes into the whole sad process of the early death of my father . . . my own diagnosis and subsequent triumph. The transplant is interwoven into that as are my little triumphs as a working professional artist. When I was 21 years old I was awarded a very high profile mural commission at St. Mary’s Basilica in Halifax. That kind of started everything.”
The second book Gaudet said will chronicle his arrival in Saskatchewan along with increasingly higher profile mural commissions and a celebration of his health with the transplant. The book ends with his decline to the point where he was required to start dialysis for a second time.
Gaudet’s third book of the trilogy, which is not yet written, will be the second triumph of his second transplant.
“My hope is this book(s) will get channeled through to dialysis and kidney patients. We are all one big worldwide community. My thought is that with getting this (first) book and the second and third published, it will attract a living donor.”
Gaudet is happy with how his first book is going and has had a positive response since it was published a short time ago.
“I feel great about having this opportunity. It is weird to say that dialysis has been a golden opportunity but really for me, I can tell you right now I would not have this book in my hands if it wasn’t for dialysis. I have had 12 hours every week of typing on my laptop to finish it. It is a mixed blessing and not to mention without (dialysis), I would be dead.”
Gaudet also started a Facebook page two years ago which is a peer-to-peer support group for kidney patients, transplant recipients, donors, dialysis patients and their loved ones. “Within the first year we had 900 members and now we have over 13,000. It is one of the busiest places on the internet for all things kidney.”
Gaudet has also elected to take a leadership role to self-advocate for a donor. Every time someone advocates for a donor and is able to do that, Gaudet says it is shared on his Facebook page: Kidney Transplant Donors and Recipients.
“Despite the fact that it is a fight for my life on a weekly basis, I am still able to stay busy and productive. Thanks to dialysis technology I am still able to be pretty busy during treatments. Dialysis is a mixed blessing that it keeps you alive but also there can be over time cascading side effects that are not good. Just because you are on dialysis is not a guarantee you are going to attract a donor . . . I am just going to keep self advocating every chance I get.”
For more information on Gaudet’s book and his story, people can go to www.mrgaudet.com
"I don't want to be known as 'the guy with kidney disease' but rather, 'the artist and author who is working hard to raise awareness of kidney health' ".
If the spirit moves you to be tested, please call the St. Paul’s Hospital Living Donor Assessment Coordinator (Darlene) at: 306-655-5740.
Two large murals designed and painted by Gaudet for the Saskatchewan Government Employees' Union in the summer of 2016. The original murals are installed at SGEU Head Offices in Regina. The images were pressed into service to stand as a series of highway billboards across the province, the 2016/17 SGEU promotion campaign.