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‘Determined’ Nunavut dad drops 79 pounds to be organ donor for teenage son

Asked how he was able to stick to his strict, year-long weight-loss regimen, Daniel Kablutsiak credits a few things. 

“Determination, love, and I guess stubbornness,” he said, from his hometown of Arviat, Nunavut.

Behind those things was a clear goal — to lose enough weight so he could help give his teenage son a more normal life. Daniel needed to lose weight in order to be an organ donor for Hunter, 16.

Hunter was diagnosed with stage 5 kidney disease in 2020. He’s been managing OK, Daniel says, but the medications — about 10 pills a day — take a toll. 

“He’s doing just fine, but with all these pills, that drains his energy easily compared to normal teenager,” Daniel said. 

A new kidney would be a life-changer for Hunter, and Daniel was prime candidate to be a donor except for one thing — at 274 pounds, Daniel was deemed overweight. To be a donor, he had to get his weight under 200 pounds.

Daniel’s other kids were potential donors, but he didn’t want them to have to go through surgery if he could help it.

“So I took action,” Daniel said.

Side-by-side images of large smiling man, and the same man, much thinner.
Daniel Kablutsiak in before and after photos. He weighed 274 pounds a little over a year ago, and now weighs 195. (Submitted by Daniel Kablutsiak)

He focused on two things: diet and exercise. He cut back on sugar, and started walking at least five kilometres every day. When the weather was too cold, or when there were polar bears around the community — a relatively common occurrence in Arviat — he’d get his exercise in at the gym. 

“I was determined. I really love him, and I put my mind into it — ‘I’m going to do it,’ and I went at it,” he said.

Daniel says his wife, Francine — Hunter’s mom — helped keep him motivated. Daniel called Francine his “coach,” but Francine says he actually didn’t need much coaching.

“He did most of it by himself, I’d say,” she said in an email to CBC News.

“He came a long way. Wasn’t easy for him. I couldn’t have been more proud for him.”

In March, about 13 months after Daniel started his weight-loss regimen, he had reached his goal. He now weighs 195 pounds. He got the call on his birthday last month, confirming that he was accepted as an organ donor for Hunter. The transplant is scheduled for June.

He’s not nervous about the surgery. He says he’s excited for his son. Daniel said the news about the transplant had an immediate impact on Hunter.

“His spirit went up, his energy, and I can see the glow in his face like some kind of relief or something,” Daniel said.

Young man near dead caribou.
Hunter Kablutsiak wants to be a game warden, Daniel says. (Submitted by Daniel Kablutsiak)

Francine says she knows there are still challenges ahead but she tries not to worry until she has to. 

“I’d say nothing is official until the transplant is done. We are on our way there. Everything is penciled. Keeps me on my toes but glad to be going in the right direction,” she wrote. 

Daniel’s also determined to now stay on the healthier path he’s been on. A big bonus this past winter was being able to play a lot of hockey with Hunter — something Daniel wasn’t able to do a year ago, when his weight was giving him knee trouble.

Daniel says he wants to be an inspiration to anybody else who’s struggling to make some necessary change in their life. 

“Whatever it is, just put your mind into it and go for it,” he said. “If I can do it, anybody else can do it.” 

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