2019 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Randy Szleszinski

Randy Szleszinski kayaking


Anyone who has ever tried river kayaking can tell you that it’s not easy. Yet Randy Szleszinski, 58, just shrugs when talking about the sport’s difficulty.


“A lot of it is your paddling technique,” the Rockford man explains. “If you’re paddling wrong, you’re going to get burned out.”


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In the kayaking club that Randy helped start, he is one of the most experienced paddlers. The members of the club range in age from 20 to 67, and some of the younger members often call on him to help them increase their endurance.


“Heck, I’m in better shape than half those people out there,” he says. “I can do anything anybody else can.”


Nineteen years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to say that. Randy suffered from Type 1 diabetes, and while he had always been able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, his health began deteriorating quickly when he was about 40 years old. He experienced severe retinopathy in one of his eyes, his skin began turning yellow, and he learned his kidneys were failing.


Doctors put him on the waitlist for a combined pancreas/kidney transplant and told him he would need to go on dialysis. But before that happened, he received the gift of life with a pancreas/kidney transplant at University Hospital.


Randy has been able to enjoy his 40s and 50s as an active, healthy man. He works as a machinist at a fastener company in Rockford, and when the weather is good, he’s out on the Rock River in his kayak almost every weekend.


“About six years ago, I kept seeing people on kayaks out on the river and thought, ‘I’d like to do that,’” he says. “Then, after I got a kayak, so many of my friends and neighbors got kayaks, too. Now, two to four times a year we’ll have 35 people going about nine miles down the river.”


Randy is acutely aware that his transplant has made it possible for him to enjoy the outdoors as much as he does.


“It changed my life,” he says. “Where would I be if I didn’t get a new pancreas and kidney? I would be on dialysis. I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”


Read more stories from the 2019 transplant calendar