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?
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
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.
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
"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