Michael Kaltenmark spent the night of his 40th birthday watching a Butler basketball game, which isn’t unusual, but doing so from a hospital bed was something of an adjustment.
Kaltenmark, the handler of Butler’s past two bulldog mascots, received a kidney transplant from his brother on Thursday but was in good spirits as the No. 6 Bulldogs tipped off at Providence on Friday night.
“I won’t be jumping around,” Kaltenmark said by phone from IU Health University Hospital in Indianapolis. “I’m allowed to yell at the TV.”
Butler (14-1, 2-0 in the Big East) hasn’t given Kaltenmark too many reasons to complain so far this season. In fact, the Bulldogs and National Coach of the Year favorite LaVall Jordan have helped put his mind at ease over the past two months.
“It’s a great distraction,” he said. “Personally, it’s helped me not be as consumed with my own health issues, put my focus on basketball. I always say, winning solves everything. It seems to be helping with my kidneys. It’s a lot of fun to watch these guys.”
Kaltenmark was first told in December 2018 that his kidneys were failing and he was in need of a transplant. He has two older brothers and assumed one of them would be a match. His doctor, however, told Kaltenmark to expand the potential donor pool and make an announcement on social media.
“To be honest, I didn’t want to put the word out there,” he said. “This is something I could probably handle behind the scenes. I could just ask them; my brothers are more likely to be a match for me. My doctors were like, that could be true, but in the event that your brothers aren’t a match, we have to go back to the drawing board. If we have someone in the queue, we can get you a kidney before you go on dialysis. That’s when I took to social media and said, hey I need a kidney.”
On April 27, Kaltenmark posted a tweet about his situation.
I need a kidney. Could be yours, someone you know, or even a complete stranger.
I just need a kidney donation.
So if you’re interested, visit https://t.co/z37rNJjrBL.
From there, click the Living Kidney Donation button, scroll down, fill out the form, and include my name. pic.twitter.com/QI9C7RMiGX
— Michael Kaltenmark (@MSKaltenmark) April 27, 2019
IU Health said the response to his tweet was overwhelming, with the hospital being flooded with people wanting to be tested to find out whether they were a match with Kaltenmark. Even after Kaltenmark’s brother Doug was found to be a match, some of the people are still choosing to donate kidneys in hopes of saving someone else’s life.
“It didn’t have anything to do with me,” Kaltenmark joked. “It was my association with Butler and those dogs. … I was grateful that people think so highly of the dogs, they want to keep the dog handler around a little while longer. But I’m appreciative and grateful for it.
“A local radio DJ, they had me on the air, she heard my story, she went to see if she was a match for me — but she’s going to save somebody else’s life,” he continued. “This was all worth it. I’m glad we did it. We still save some other people’s lives. I feel good about the work we’ve done.”
The fact that it was Kaltenmark’s brother who ultimately donated the kidney to essentially save his life made it all the more special.
“I don’t want to be in a hospital for my 40th birthday, but I cannot think of a better gift to receive, right?” he said. “There’s no way I can ever repay him. I would jump at the chance to do the same thing for him. My brother didn’t even question it. Once he found out he was a match, that was it. He was doing it. That’s just brotherly love.”
Kaltenmark was the handler for Butler Blue II, whose popularity skyrocketed during Butler’s back-to-back national championship game runs in 2010 and 2011. Blue II died due to congestive heart failure in September 2013, with Blue III — also known as Trip — taking over his duties. Both Kaltenmark and Trip, now 8 years old, are set to retire after this season — although Kaltenmark is not stepping down from his full-time job as director of external relations at the university.
Kaltenmark said the retirement is going to be tougher on Trip than himself.
“We’re going to have to ease into it,” he said.
Kaltenmark underwent surgery on Thursday, but felt much better on Friday morning. Much of the pain had subsided, he was able to move around a bit and his kidney function was dramatically improved.
Perhaps the best part of Friday? Trip visited Kaltenmark in the hospital.
“He came today, he wanted to perform. He saw all the cameras and the people, and he knew that I was OK. He wasn’t as concerned about me as [he was] working the room,” Kaltenmark joked.
“It did me a world of good. It felt so good. It’s the best therapy.”