October 21st, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

A Tail of Two Anglers
It was the Worst of Times and also the Best of Times

By Richard J. Babine

This true story actually begins some twenty years ago and involves two young men starting out on their new careers in the health care industry. Ken Sawtelle and Greg Gelinas worked the second shift together in the Central Services Department of the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. Working these hours was perfect for a couple of guys in their twenties because it left the daylight hours to enjoy the outdoors. Ken introduced Greg to the sport of fly-fishing and each of them enjoyed getting out and wetting lines together. The two co-workers and now close friends armed with both fly rods and a cribbage board, even took a couple of days to spend together roaming the rivers and streams of western Maine. How close will soon be revealed.

In the spring of 1997, the fishing trips came to a sudden end because Greg started to experience kidney failure. No longer could Greg endure the long walks and endless casting strokes required for his newfound passion. The days of fishing from sun up to sun down were well beyond the limits of his diminishing strength. So, instead of enjoying the thrill of a salmon or trout on the end of his leader, Greg had to settle for being a slave to a dialysis machine for three days a week every week.

It was very soon after that initial kidney failure that Greg was advised that he really needed a transplant and that no one in his immediate family qualified. The Maine Medical Center even placed Greg's name on a cadaver list and Greg was told that the wait for a matched kidney could last for years.

(L to R) Dave Cote, Greg Gelinas, Dick Babine and Ken Sawtelle months earlier

Just when the situation seemed dire, Greg received a call from Bruce White, the coordinator of the transplant program. He had located a kidney for Greg. Greg had mixed feelings for he was to get a second chance at life, but some other family had certainly lost a loved one. Greg prayed that the family had made the choice to donate with the hopes that the donor's life would somehow continue in Greg's body.

The operation went well and Greg once again was free of the endless hours being a slave to that dreaded dialysis machine. Why he even entertained the thoughts of returning with a friend to some remote stream located in the mountains of western Maine. And then, it happened. Some complications had developed and Greg found himself a patient again in the very place he worked. After several months and a few more stays as a patient, Greg's body rejected the gift of life given to him some months earlier.

So, in late January of 1998, the rejected kidney was removed and Greg once again returned to the dialysis machine.

The people of Southern Maine Dialysis were truly wonderful and totally dedicated to their patients, but aside from that, Greg could barely tolerate the time required to spend there. It was very difficult to socialize at the Center because of the noisy dialysis machines located between each patient and of course the staff having to constantly scurry about, took away any sense of privacy and solitude. For Greg, the choice was watching boring sitcom reruns or even worse, reading over old news that was left there by someone else equally bored. The only thing that one could really do was to think, and there was always time for that. The thoughts ran from his family at home eating dinner without him, or the fact that he could be dropping his daughter off at her school dance, or playing a little one-on-one with his son and of course fishing with a friend on some quiet trout stream in the Rangeley area. But the sad reality was that even if Greg weren't chained to that dialysis machine, he truly didn't have the strength required to do any of those things. Greg had, in youth, always been an athlete, but now was a mere shell of what once he was. He had lost more than 50 pounds and had just about no strength left to fight the up coming battles. Remember the thoughts of family dinners, dances, basketball games and fishing with a friend? Well, now all the thoughts were concerning a life-giving transplant. Was the gift going to materialize? Would he get another chance at life?

Greg at GELINAS COVE So, begrudgingly Greg settled in for the endless series of dialysis treatments, which from the outsider seemed quite uneventful. But there were many more tests to be taken and lots of obstacles to overcome in order to be classified as a survivor. For as hard as he tried, Greg rarely made it through a session without some kind of complication. Many, many times, Greg would have to stay in treatment, while others left, due to these frequent complications.

It was during those seemingly endless treatments that Greg first learned of the Transplant Games. These were athletic games in which the participants were made up of people that have had a transplant of some kind. Wow, people were not only surviving transplants but were thriving and competing with one another on a national level! This was it! This was the new reality! his was Greg's goal, in fact, he decided then and there to someday be a member of the Maine Transplant Team. This whole idea and newfound goal became the light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, even during all of Greg's ups and downs he and his friend Ken, continued to work and grow within the Maine Medical Center family. Ken Sawtelle became the Central Service Departments, Technical Supervisor and Greg Gelinas had worked his way up to a Unit Manager. Greg, never lost hope of getting that transplant but it didn't seem like it was going to happen anytime soon.

To Greg's absolute amazement, his long time friend said to him, "We need to get you back on the river." Greg reluctantly smiled and replied, "Ken, I'd love to go fishing, but I just don't have the energy."

Then, the bombshell hit when Ken said, "I want to give you one of my kidneys." It was a beautiful, unselfish and loving thing to do, but Greg thought that the sacrifice was too great because Ken had his own family and life to think about. But, Ken was very determined and felt very strongly that it was something that was simply meant to be. Again, Greg tried to talk Ken out of the idea of donating his kidney and was, he thought, doing well until Ken asked, "If the situation were reversed would you do it for me?" and Greg stated to Ken, "without a second thought." So, Ken went through all the required testing and as fate would have it, Ken's kidney ended up being a four out of six antigen match. A more than remarkable match for two wild and crazy unrelated fishing buddies.

So, on the 5th of January 1999, Greg's friend and hero, Ken Sawtelle unselfishly gave his friend Greg Gelinas the gift of life. Greg knew the moment he awoke from the operation that his friends kidney would never fail him. So, Greg never needed to check the lab values or anything else, he just knew. And wow, did it ever work. Greg's blood pressure and diabetes greatly improved, his overall strength increased and the lost weight somehow returned and Greg felt better than he had in fifteen years. As soon as the incision had healed, Greg headed for the swimming pool because he had heard that swimming was the best exercise that he could do. At first, the best that he could do was barely one length of the pool. Greg never gave up and returned time after time until he was swimming over a mile per session. And another thing, Greg never forgot the goal of the Transplant Games.

On June 21st. 2000, exactly three years to the day of Greg's first failed kidney transplant, he found himself at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 U.S. Transplant Games in Orlando, Florida. What an incredible journey! GREG HAD MADE IT! He met a lot of wonderful people and even came home with a Bronze medal in swimming. And yes, Greg and Ken did go fly-fishing that first spring after the transplant. As Greg's strength increased so did his love of fly fishing from just standing in a quiet spot in the mountains of western Maine to observe nature's gift or to be standing next to Carrie Stevens's memorial plaque across from the camp at the upper dam pool, surely life is good and the rewards are great if you only take the time to look.

Beyond Greg's expectations

In fact, Greg Gelinas, Ken Sawtelle, David Cote and myself just returned from Lac Des Trios Iles in northern Quebec where the four of us enjoyed five meat breakfasts, Sponge Bob Square Pants macaroni and, of course, Red Hot Dogs, endless games of cribbage, bacon with every meal and the tug of 488 Brook Trout on the ends of our tippets. In fact, if you look close, there is a map of Lac Des Trois Iles that clearly has a cove on the western side with the name GELINAS COVE. ~ Richard J. Babine

About Richard:

"I'm the founder and Lead Instructor for the Scarborough Fly Fishing Academy and have taught the sport for some ten years. We use the Adult Education Departments of the local high schools and put on the program for two hours a night for six weeks then take the class on a local fishing trip. The academy has also done program audits for the L. L. Bean, Parent and Child Fly Fishing Weekend."

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